What a woman eats and how she cares for her heart health while pregnant may influence the child’s overall cardiovascular health and body weight years later, according to the American Heart Association research.
The studies identified health and nutrition factors during pregnancy that may be linked to a child’s health as they mature, highlighting the longer-term impact of lifestyle and nutrition decisions during pregnancy.
“Pregnancy is a perfect time for women to focus on living a heart-healthy lifestyle,” said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., FAAFP, American Heart Association Chief Medical Officer for Prevention. “We’re learning more every day about how a mother’s lifestyle and food choices while pregnant influence a child’s health in utero and after birth.”
Mothers who had the highest cardiovascular health scores during pregnancy had children with the healthiest hearts as tweens and teens. Mothers with the lowest heart health scores during pregnancy had children with significantly lower cardiovascular scores at 10 to 14 years old.
Eating fast food during pregnancy raises risk of weight gain in young children
Children of mothers who reported eating the most fast foods, such as fried chicken and fish, mayonnaise, sugary drinks, fruit juices and other items, defined as a fast-food eating pattern, had children who were more likely to gain weight rapidly during their first year and become overweight by age 4.
“These findings are very important,” said lead study author, Zunsong Hu, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. “Animal studies have shown that prenatal ’junk food’ intake leads to a greater preference for fatty, sugary and salty foods and increased risk for obesity in offspring. Our study provides evidence for this association for the first time in a U.S. population including both whites and blacks. Future studies are still needed to validate these findings.”
Hu added that promoting healthy eating during pregnancy may provide an early and effective method for curbing the significant increasing health burden caused by childhood obesity.
The study participants included 1,257 women in the CANDLE study (Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development and Learning in Early Childhood) who completed food frequency questionnaires to evaluate the foods and beverages consumed during pregnancy. The study identified a trend among the participants but does not prove cause and effect.