Early life nutrition can be a tricky topic to cover from the perspective some folk feel research findings and recommendations just give them one more thing to worry and feel guilty about. But looking at it from a purely scientific standpoint they do provide solid, evidence-based suggestions for optimal growth and development of our children; from pre-pregnancy through to their own adulthood! Here are 10 facts from the Early Life Nutrition report, which is compiled using the best of the best research and researchers from across the globe.
Overweight or obese mothers are significantly more likely to have overweight children with the evidence showing a mothers BMI at the start of pregnancy can predict the likelihood of their child being obese later in life. Being overweight or obese is also a strong predictor of gestational diabetes and of women gaining an excessive amount of weight during pregnancy.
Excessive weight gain during pregnancy is also linked to an increased risk of having obese children later in life and the ELN reports says around 50 percent of women gain excessive weight during pregnancy. One large scale study found children born to mothers who gained excessive weight during pregnancy had a greater fat mass at birth and at six years old than children of mothers’ who gained weight within the recommended range during pregnancy.
The timing of excessive weight gain also has an impact on children’s health later in life. One study found women that gained excessive weight during the first half of their pregnancy were significantly more likely to have a baby with excessive body fat even compared to women who gained excessive weight during the second half of pregnancy.
Maternal gestational diabetes mellitus has been shown to predispose male offspring to a greater BMI at 18 years of age.
Stress can have an impact. Children born to mothers experiencing a bereavement during pregnancy have an overall higher risk of being overweight in early adult life compared to those whose mothers did not. The Finnish study behind this factoid also found an increased risk of the child becoming overweight if the bereavement occurred in the six months prior to conception.
Both low and high birth weight is associated with later disease risk including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes later in life. One large scale US study found an increased risk of hypertension was associated with low birth weight in full-term offspring, while an increased risk of obesity was associated with high birth weight. A Finnish study showed mortality from stroke and heart disease was greater in people born at a low birth weight, while a British study found that death rates from heart disease fell with increasing birth weight.
Children’s food preferences may be influenced by a mother’s diet during pregnancy. One study compared maternal nutrient intake of protein, fat and carbohydrate during pregnancy with the maternal, paternal and child dietary intake of the same nutrients following birth. The researchers found maternal diet during pregnancy was most strongly associated with later childhood intake of the same nutrients, particularly protein and fat.
Early-life nutrition affects the developing immune system and risk of allergic disease. While many immune system disorders are inherited, genetic factors alone can’t explain the dramatic rise in many immune diseases in recent years. The effect doesn’t start from birth either, research has also demonstrated alterations in a child’s immune system function begins in utero.
A range of environmental cues have been shown to influence immune development and function, including maternal nutrition, microbial burden and pollutants such as cigarette smoke.
Women with a history of allergies are more likely to have children with allergies and the likelihood is far stronger when it is the mother with allergies than when the father does.