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.
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.
“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.
“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.