A mother’s diet from as early as the fifth month of pregnancy can affect childhood weight and body fat at two years of age, research has shown.
The University of Oxford led a study that revealed new information about the biological causes of childhood obesity. It found that maternal nutrition during early pregnancy is a key factor in foetus growth and subsequent childhood weight.
Researchers tracked the lives of 3,500 mothers in six different countries. The findings, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, could lead to earlier identification of infants at risk of overweight and obesity – one of the most pressing global public health issues for governments worldwide.
We tracked the babies and mothers of South Africa, Brazil, Kenya and Pakistan from early pregnancy to childhood.
The growth inside the womb was checked using ultrasound scans at intervals of five weeks. Blood samples from the mother were taken during pregnancy and then from the umbilical chord at birth. Up to the age of two years, they were closely monitored for their growth and development.
Professor José Villar, from the University of Oxford, who co-led the study, said: ‘This is the first comprehensive evidence, across geographic populations, of the complex interaction between maternal and foetal metabolism that regulates, early in pregnancy, unique foetal trajectories linked specifically to weight, adiposity and development during childhood.’
The researchers found that the complex interactions between maternal and foetal nutrition in early pregnancy can have an impact on postnatal weight, and ultimately, adult health. Foletal growth patterns observed were linked to blood flow and nutrients transferred by the placenta. Both the growth of the foetal abdomen and the mother’s blood lipid metabolites early in pregnancy were found to influence the child’s weight and body fat at two years of age.
Professor Aris Papageorghiou, from the University of Oxford, who co-led the study, said: ‘Much has been said about the importance of the first 1,000 days of life in determining future health outcomes. This study provides evidence of distinct patterns of foetal abdominal growth and placental transfer and how they relate to longer-term health.’
Researchers hope that the findings will help to identify infants at high risk of obesity earlier and encourage policymakers to examine the biological causes of childhood obesity to stop the epidemic.
It comes after research in July found over a quarter of children are dieting, including children of a healthy weight, amid a ‘steady rise’ in the number of children with overweight and obesity in England.