Maternal intake of ultra-processed foods linked to risk of obesity in their children

Author : Dr Veena Aggarwal, Consultant Womens’ Health, CMD and Editor-in-Chief, IJCP Group & Medtalks Trustee, Dr KK’s Heart Care Foundation of India



New Delhi, October 24, 2022:

Maternal intake of ultra-processed foods during the child rearing period may increase the chances of their children being overweight or obese during childhood or adolescence, suggests a recent BMJ study.

In this observational study, researchers from Brazil and the United States attempted to figure out if the intake of ultra-processed foods (“higher sugar, sodium, and saturated fat content than less processed foods”) by mothers had an effect on the weight of their offspring during childhood or adolescence in 19,958 mother-child pairs. For this, data was obtained from mothers enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II) and their children participating in the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS I and II) in the United States. The average daily consumption of ultra-processed foods was determined through food frequency questionnaires based on which the mothers were grouped into five: Group 1 consuming the lowest and Group 5 the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods.

Overall 2471 (12.4%) offspring developed overweight or obesity over a median follow-up of 4 years. Results showed that children of mothers who ate ultra-processed foods during child rearing period were at risk of being overweight or obese during childhood or adolescence after adjusting for established maternal risk factors such as physical activity, smoking, BMI, and socioeconomic factors and offsprings ultra-processed food intake, physical activity and sedentary time. The risk increased by 26% among children whose mothers consumed these foods the most (Group 5: 12.1 servings/day) compared to the lowest consumption group (Group 1: 3.4 servings/day). When the types of the ultra-processed foods were examined, the risk was highest for breakfast foods and ultra-processed bread.

When the intake of ultra-processed foods was examined during pregnancy, no significant association was observed for increased risk of overweight or obesity in the offspring during childhood or adolescence. The association was most robust for sugar sweetened beverages and dairy-based desserts.

This study highlights the significance of a healthy diet all through life and the need for dietary counselling of women of reproductive age to eat a healthy diet for optimum health of their children.


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