October 7, 2022 – According to a new study, mothers who consume ultra-processed foods during pregnancy may contribute to obesity or overweight in their children during childhood and adolescence.
Of the 19,958 mother-child pairs studied, 12.4% of children developed obesity or overweight in the study group as a whole, and the children of mothers who consumed the most ultra-processed foods (12 ,1 servings/day) had a 26% higher risk of obesity/overweight, compared to those with the lowest consumption (3.4 servings/day), reports Andrew T. Chan, MD, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and colleagues.
The results have been published online in the journal BMJ.
The study shows the potential benefits of limiting ultra-processed foods during the childbearing years to reduce the risk of childhood obesity, the study authors note. Ultra-processed foods, such as baked goods and packaged snacks, soft drinks and sugary cereals, which are linked to increased adult weight, are frequently included in modern Western diets.
But the relationship between parents eating highly processed meals and their children’s weight isn’t clear across generations, the researchers note.
“Global awareness of the importance of diet in one’s personal health, as well as in the health of one’s family, is something that we hope will be a source of change, and certainly starts with promoting and educating people on the importance of diet during these critical times,” Chan said in an interview.
He said it’s important not to blame mothers for their children’s health, as there are other things at stake beyond just education. “It takes a concerted effort to ensure that we remove the social and economic barriers to access to healthy food so that it actually becomes possible for many women to have access to a diet that will support their health and that of their children.”
Does eating ultra-processed foods during pregnancy make children obese?
In this study, researchers investigated whether eating ultra-processed foods during pregnancy and while raising children increased the likelihood of children and adolescents being overweight or obese.
The study team assessed 14,553 mothers and their 19,958 children using data collected in two large studies. Boys represented 45% of the children in the cohort. The children were aged 7 to 17.
Childhood obesity or overweight has been linked to maternal consumption of highly processed meals during childrearing.
“We know that lifestyle during pregnancy is important not only for the health of the baby, but also for the health of the mother. So this represents an opportunity for people to think critically about what they can do to really optimize their health, and it becomes a time when people are maybe thinking a little more about their health and being more open to new dietary advice. and also more motivated to make changes,” says Chan.
It’s important for women to consider their diet, Chan says. Women should 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 these foods. dietary factors that we believe lead to overweight and obesity,” he says.
Physical activity is also important during the childbearing years and pregnancy, and people should aim to maintain physical activity during pregnancy and beyond, Chan notes.
Results may be limited, as they were based on self-reported questionnaires and some mother-child pairs discontinued study participation during follow-up. Most of the mothers had similar personal and family educational backgrounds, had comparable social and economic backgrounds, and were predominantly white, which limits how this study can apply to other groups of people, the researchers noted.
“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, and certainly in early adulthood, because of the influence this has on your long-term life. health, but also the potential influence it could have on your family,” Chan says.