Children of woman who followed the Mediterranean diet have less risk of having a trajectory of accelerated growth (characterized by high birthweight and a rapid increase in weight during childhood), increasing the risk of obesity in the future. This is the main conclusion of a study coordinated by the Institute of Global Health of Barcelona (ISGlobal).
The Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high content of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes and nuts. This dietary pattern has been vastly associated with lower risk of obesity and cardio-metabolic conditions. However, in boys and girls, studies are scarce.
The research, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, aimed to evaluate the relationship of following the Mediterranean diet during pregnancy and the growth trajectory and cardio-metabolic risk of the offspring during early childhood.
The study included more than 2,700 pregnant women from Asturias, Guipúzcoa, Sabadell and Valencia , who are part of the INMA-Children and Environment Project. The women filled out a questionnaire on food consumption in the first and third trimesters of pregnancy. In addition, their offspring were followed (diet, weight and height) from birth to four years of age. At this age they also underwent various tests, such as a blood test and taking blood pressure.
The results showed that pregnant women with greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet had 32% lower risk of having sons and daughters with an accelerated growth trajectory, in comparison with the sons and daughters of mothers who did not follow this diet.
More Mediterranean diet in older mothers
Sílvia Fernández , ISGlobal researcher and first author of the publication, highlights that “mothers with less adherence to the Mediterranean diet were younger, consumed more calories, were more likely to be smokers, and had a lower socio-educational level,” compared to the women who did follow this diet.
These results support the hypothesis that a “healthy diet during pregnancy can have a beneficial role in the development of children,” concludes Dora Romaguera , a researcher at ISGlobal and CIBEROBN who coordinated the study.
Regarding the mechanisms that explain this relationship, Romaguera points to possible “epigenetic modifications that regulate fetal cardio-metabolic programming, or the effect of shared dietary habits between mothers and children, although this should be studied in future research.”
The study found no association between following a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy and a reduction in cardio-metabolic risk in childhood, i.e. high blood pressure or cholesterol. For Fernandez, one of the explanations may be that “the effects of prenatal exposures on cardio-metabolic risk do not appear until later in childhood.”