Women who don’t watch what they eat during pregnancy can affect their child’s health well into their teenage years. Nutrition during pregnancy plays a pivotal role in determining the child’s body mass index (BMI) even during adolescence, according to a new study.
“To date, studies linking maternal nutrition during pregnancy to offspring growth have focused on the newborn- and early-childhood period, with limited data extending later into childhood,” says study lead author Dr. Carmen Monthé-Drèze, of Harvard University, in a media release. “We wanted to better understand dynamic growth changes that occur from childhood through adolescence as a result of maternal nutrition in pregnancy. We specifically wanted to assess whether there are distinct periods between birth and adolescence when rates of weight gain are more susceptible to the programming effects of nutrition in pregnancy.”
The researchers analyzed data from 1,459 mothers and children, collected by the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute. Mothers were asked to complete food questionnaires during their pregnancies so the researchers could evaluate their diets using the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII), the Mediterranean diet score, and the Alternate Healthy Eating Index for Pregnancy.
These three “dietary indices” are used to determine whether a person is getting the right amount of nutrients from their diet, including those known to reduce the risk of disease. The child’s weight and height were then measured several times between birth and adolescence to calculate their BMI score.
“The results suggest maternal nutrition during pregnancy may have a long-term impact on children’s weight trajectories, and that there are specific developmental periods when nutrition during pregnancy may influence offspring growth,” says Dr. Monthé-Drèze. “For example, we found that a pregnancy diet with higher inflammatory potential was associated with faster BMI growth rates in children between three and ten years of age. We also found that lower adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet during pregnancy was associated with higher BMI trajectories through adolescence.”
The findings are published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.