Pregnancy Nutrition and Obesity in Child
By Fiona Macrae
Women who count calories during pregnancy could be condemning their unborn children to a lifetime of obesity, scientists have warned.
It is thought that a lack of food in the womb alters the programming of the baby's fat cells, leading to weight problems in later life.
As they grown into adulthood the child may find their body is still trying to compensate for the food shortages it experienced years before, a science conference heard yesterday.
Dr Helen Budge, of University Hospital Nottingham, warned that dieting during pregnancy or when trying to conceive could have long-lasting consequences.
She said: "Women diet to get pregnant and try to restrict their food intake during pregnancy because they don't want to become overweight. But the baby needs them to gain some weight. Whether we become obese is often established before, and soon after, we are born and is influenced by both the eating habits of our mothers and by the nutrition we receive as babies in the months after birth. Processes set in motion early on in our lives can have life-long effects."
Dr Budge's work shows that lack of nutrition in the womb alters the chemistry of the developing fat cells. "We know the chemistry of these cells is upset," she said. "There is more inflammation and stress on the cells and the hormone balance is upset."
With overweight mothers-to-be also running the risk of obese children, Dr Budge said a balanced diet was essential during pregnancy.
She told the British Association's Festival of Science in Liverpool: "They should avoid food fads and diets and avoid over-eating. The message is about getting the balance right. If we want to successfully tackle obesity, it is essential that we improve understanding amongst women of the importance of having a healthy balanced diet before and during pregnancy and how this can affect the health of their child for decades at a time."
Their average daily calorie intake was lower than both that recommended during pregnancy and that for women who aren't pregnant.
They also put on less weight than advised by the Department of Health - gaining around 2.5lb under the recommended 27.5lb.
The women were also lacking in iron, which prevents anemia, and folic acid, a form of vitamin B which helps prevent brain and spine defects such as spina bifida.
And research on rats suggest that children develop a taste for junk food in the womb, raising their risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the years to come.
Even babies fed a healthy diet after birth - meaning they had never eaten junk food themselves - tended to be overweight.
Dr Pat Goodwin, of the Wellcome Trust, which funded the junk food research, said: "Obesity has increased dramatically over the last few years and needs to be tackled urgently. Pregnancy can be a difficult time for many mothers, but it is important that they are aware that what they eat may affect their offspring."
Dr Helen Budge.
Doomed by mum's diet: Calorie- cutting during pregnancy puts your baby at risk of obesity in later life.
British Association's Festival of Science in Liverpool
University Hospital Nottingham