Health

Med Diet During Mother's Pregnancy Linked to Lower Risk of Obesity in Children

Spanish researchers discovered that following the Mediterranean diet during pregnancy resulted in a weight benefit for children in the first four years of life.

Jan. 2, 2019
By Mary West

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A study found that preg­nant women who adhered closely to the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) had chil­dren with a 32-per­cent lower risk of obe­sity. According to one of the authors, the results indi­cate the con­sump­tion of a healthy diet during preg­nancy has a pos­i­tive effect on child devel­op­ment.

These results sup­port the hypoth­e­sis that a healthy diet during preg­nancy can have a ben­e­fi­cial effect for child devel­op­ment.- Dora Romaguera, Researcher

The MedDiet, some­times called the world’s health­i­est eating plan, includes fruits, veg­eta­bles, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fatty fish and olive oil. While research has linked it to reduced obe­sity and car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk in adults, few stud­ies have explored its effects on chil­dren.

In the new study, sci­en­tists exam­ined data on more than 2,700 preg­nant women from var­i­ous regions of Spain who were enrolled in the INMA-Childhood and Environment cohort. Participants com­pleted a ques­tion­naire on dietary intake during their first and third preg­nancy trimesters. Researchers mon­i­tored the weight, height and diet of the women’s off­spring through­out the first four years of life. The team also mea­sured blood pres­sure and con­ducted blood analy­sis to assess the children’s car­dio­vas­cu­lar health at age 4.

Results revealed that preg­nant women who fol­lowed the MedDiet closely had a 32-per­cent lower risk of having chil­dren with higher weight com­pared to women who didn’t adhere to the diet. Offspring of women who didn’t follow the eating plan had a larger birth size, and they expe­ri­enced greater body mass index gain during the early child­hood years.

“Mothers with lower adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet were younger, con­sumed more calo­ries, and had a higher prob­a­bil­ity of smok­ing and lower edu­ca­tion and social level, as com­pared to those women who did follow the diet,” said first author Sílvia Fernández, researcher at the Barcelona Institute of Global Health.

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“These results sup­port the hypoth­e­sis that a healthy diet during preg­nancy can have a ben­e­fi­cial effect for child devel­op­ment,” con­cluded the study coor­di­na­tor Dora Romaguera. She added that this may be due to “pos­si­ble epi­ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tions that reg­u­late fetal carid­iome­tab­o­lism, or shared eating pat­terns between moth­ers and chil­dren, although this deserves fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion.”

No cor­re­la­tion was found between con­sump­tion of the MedDiet during preg­nancy and lower car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk in early child­hood. “The effects on car­diometa­bolic risk could appear later in child­hood,” explained Fernández.

In an inter­view with Olive Oil Times, Fernández spec­u­lated on the fac­tors in the MedDiet that may be respon­si­ble for the weight-related ben­e­fit.

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“The MedDiet rep­re­sents a healthy eating pat­tern, and its advan­tage for child devel­op­ment may be due to a com­bi­na­tion of dif­fer­ent fac­tors,” she said. “We do not know the spe­cific under­ly­ing rea­sons, and more research is needed on this topic. The con­tent of fiber due to the high intake of plant foods may play a role. Another ben­e­fi­cial influ­ence is likely the high qual­ity of fat from olive oil, fish and nuts. Moreover, adher­ence to this pat­tern decreases the con­sump­tion of unhealthy foods such as refined foods and sodas.”

The study was pub­lished in The Journal of Pediatrics.

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