NEW European research has found that a mother's adherence to the popular Mediterranean diet while pregnant could reduce a child's risk of having a higher body mass index (BMI) early in life.
Led by researchers at ISGlobal, Barcelona, Spain, the new study looked at 2,892 mother-child pairs from four Spanish regions to investigate the possible association between following a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy and a child's growth pattern and cardiometabolic risk, which is the chance of having diabetes, heart disease, or stroke.
The women were asked to complete dietary questionnaires in the first and third trimester of pregnancy in order to calculate how well they followed a Mediterranean diet, with the team also recording the diet, weight and height of the children from birth until age four. The blood pressure, waist circumference, and cardiometabolic risk of 697 of the children was also measured when they were four years old.
The findings, published in the Journal of Paediatrics, showed that the women who had a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet while pregnant had a 32 per cent lower risk of having children with an accelerated growth pattern, in others words a higher BMI, compared to children born to women that did not follow the diet.
Sílvia Fernández, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study, also noted that mothers with lower adherence to the diet tended to be younger, consume more calories, and had a higher probability of smoking and a lower education and social level, compared to those women who did follow the diet.
The researchers failed to find a link between eating a Mediterranean diet in pregnancy and a reduction in a child's cardiometabolic risk; however, Fernández added that, “the effects on cardiometabolic risk could appear later in childhood”.
“These results support the hypothesis that a healthy diet during pregnancy can have a beneficial effect for child development,” concluded the study coordinator, Dora Romaguera, with a Mediterranean diet considered a healthy choice as it encourages a high intake of fruit, vegetables, fish, pulses, olive oil and whole grains, and a low intake of meat, processed foods, and dairy products.
The diet pattern has already been linked with a lower risk of obesity and cardiometabolic risk in adults, but only a few studies have investigated its effect on the conditions in children.