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Higher risk of childhood obesity associated with low quality diet during pregnancy

Posted 23 February, 2021

Poor eating habits during pregnancy have been associated with an increase risk of obesity in children, according to a new study.

Researchers from University College Dublin collected and analysed data from 16,295 mother-child pairs across seven European birth cohort studies and found late-childhood obesity was associated with diets high in foods linked with inflammation throughout pregnancy, such as saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and red and processed meat.

The study found children whose mothers ate a low quality diet, high in inflammation-associated foods, while pregnant had a higher risk of unhealthy body fat levels than those whose mothers ate a high quality diet, low in inflammation-associated foods.

“Mounting evidence suggests that maternal diet influences pregnancy and birth outcomes and points to the first one thousand days of a child's life, from conception to two years old, as a critical period for preventing childhood obesity,” said Dr Ling-Wei Chen, UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science.

“Our research indicates that children born to mothers who eat a low-quality diet, high in inflammation-associated foods, during pregnancy may be more likely to have obesity or excess body fat in late childhood than those born to mothers who eat a high-quality diet low in inflammation-associated foods."

To examine the effects of maternal diet on the likelihood of childhood obesity and excess body fat, the researchers analysed data collected from 16,295 mother-child pairs from Ireland, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Poland, all of which are involved in the ALPHABET consortium.

An association between a lower quality maternal diet, high in inflammation-associated foods, and lower levels of fat-free body mass in late-childhood was found to be stronger in boys than in girls.

Dr Catherine Phillips, the principal investigator and coordinator of the ALPHABET project said the findings suggest that promoting an overall healthy diet, high in fruit and vegetables and low in refined carbohydrates and red and processed meats, throughout pregnancy may help prevent childhood obesity.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations