October 7, 2022 – A new study has found that mothers who eat ultra-processed foods during pregnancy may contribute to obesity or overweight in their children in childhood and adolescence.
Of the 19,958 mother-child pairs studied, 12.4% of the children were obese or overweight in the full study group, and the children of those mothers who ate the most over-processed foods (12.1 servings per day) had a 26% higher risk. Obesity/overweight, compared to those with the lowest consumption (3.4 servings/day), report Andrew T Chan, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and colleagues.
The results were published online in the journal BMJ.
The study authors noted that the study shows the potential benefits of limiting ultra-processed foods during the childbearing years to reduce the risk of childhood obesity. Ultra-processed foods, such as baked goods, packaged snacks, soft drinks, and sugary cereals, which are associated with adult weight gain, are often included in modern Western diets.
The researchers noted that the relationship between parents who eat highly processed meals and their children’s weight has been unclear across generations.
“Public awareness of the importance of diet to one’s personal health, as well as to the health of their families, is something that we hope will be a source of change, and certainly starts with encouraging and educating people about the importance of diet during an interview,” Chan said in an interview.
He said it’s important not to blame mothers for their children’s health, as there are other things that play a role beyond just education. “It takes a concerted effort to ensure that social and economic barriers to access to healthy foods are broken so that many women can actually be able to access a diet that promotes health for themselves and their children.”
Does Eating Ultra-Processed Foods During Pregnancy Make Babies Obese?
In this study, researchers looked at whether eating ultra-processed foods throughout pregnancy and while raising children increases the likelihood of children and adolescents being overweight or obese.
The study team evaluated 14,553 mothers and 19,958 children using data collected from two large studies. Males made up 45% of the children in the cohort. The children’s ages ranged from 7 to 17 years.
Childhood obesity or overweight has been linked to mothers’ consumption of highly processed meals while raising children.
“We know that lifestyle during pregnancy is important not only to the health of the baby, but also to the health of the mother. So, it is an opportunity for people to think critically about what they can do to really improve their health, and it becomes a period of time where people might think a little bit more about their health and be more open on new nutritional advice and also more motivation to make a difference,” Chan says.
Chan says it’s important for a woman to think about her diet. Women need to consider “the types of foods they eat and, if possible, try to avoid ultra-processed foods that contain highly refined ingredients and lots of additives and preservatives, as they tend to have a higher content of those foods,” he says. to overweight and obesity.
Chan notes that physical activity is also important during the childbearing years and pregnancy, and people should aim to maintain physical activity during pregnancy and beyond.
The results may be limited, as they were based on self-reported questionnaires and some pairs of mothers and children discontinued participation in the study during follow-up. The researchers noted that most of the mothers came from similar personal and family educational backgrounds, had similar socioeconomic backgrounds, and were primarily white, which limits how this study can be applied to other groups of people.
“Staying healthy isn’t something you should really start doing in middle age or late adulthood, it’s really something that should be promoted at a young age, certainly during youth, because of its long-term impact. health, but also the potential impact it might have on your family,” Chan says.
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