Children born to mothers who eat a lot of processed foods packed with sugar and salt face an increased risk of obesity late in childhood, researchers said on Monday.
“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,” Ling-Wei Chen from University College Dublin’s School of Public Health, said in a statement.
“Mounting evidence has pointed to the first 1,000 days of life — from conception to two years old — as a critical period for preventing childhood obesity.”
Obesity in childhood often carries on into adulthood and is associated with a higher risk of type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems.
To examine how maternal diet might affect childhood obesity, Chen and colleagues analysed data collected from 16,295 mother-child pairs in Ireland, France, Britain, the Netherlands, and Poland.
On average, mothers were 30 years old and had a healthy body-mass index (BMI), a standard measure for obesity calculated on the basis of weight, height, and sex.
The women reported the food they ate before and during pregnancy. The researchers graded the diets on a five-point scale.
Participants with the healthiest diets — rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products nuts, and legumes — were at one end of the spectrum.
Those eating a lot of red and processed meats, along foodstuffs larded with saturated fat, sugar, and salt were at the other end.