diet during pregnancy

A recent study examined whether diet during pregnancy influences fat mass and adiposity in newborns.


Many studies have reported links between maternal diet and birth outcomes and weight, indicating that maternal health and nutritional status play a key role in the future health of offspring. Diet during pregnancy has been associated with newborn adiposity and an increased risk of future weight gain; however, results between studies are inconsistent. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition identified dietary patterns during pregnancy and examined whether they are associated with gestational weight gain (GWG) and fasting glucose concentrations, factors previously identified as significant predictors of newborn adiposity. The authors hypothesized that GWG and fasting glucose concentrations could be predictors of newborn fat mass and adiposity.

Data on 764 mother-infant pairs was obtained from the Health Start prospective-cohort study conducted in the USA between 2009 and 2014. Participants were ethnically diverse women at least 16 years of age, with a singleton pregnancy at less than 24 weeks gestation when enrolled. Sociodemographic information and diet during pregnancy were collected via questionnaires. GWG was calculated by subtracting pre-pregnancy weight from the last recorded weight during pregnancy. Fasting glucose concentration was measured from serum samples (median: 27 weeks gestation). Fat mass, fat-free mass and adiposity (fat mass as a percentage of total body mass) were measured in newborns within three days of birth using the PEA POD device, an air displacement plethysmograph designed to measure body composition by densitometry in infants.

Reduced-rank regression analyses identified two dietary patterns associated with GWG and fasting glucose concentrations. Pattern 1, characterized by higher consumption of poultry, nuts, cheese, whole grains, a diverse mix of fruits, added sugars and solid fats was associated with greater GWG and lower fasting glucose concentrations. Pattern 2, which contained more eggs, starchy vegetables, a less diverse mix of fruits, solid fats and nonwhole grains, along with less yoghurt, added sugar, soy products, dark-green vegetables and whole grains was associated with higher fasting glucose concentrations. Although these two patterns are not necessarily “healthy” or “unhealthy”, Pattern 2 lacks diversity and may provide inadequate nutrition. Pattern 2 also contains more foods with a high glycemic index (GI), which is linked to higher blood glucose concentrations in women with gestational diabetes.

Linear regression analyses identified associations between the two dietary patterns and newborn fat mass, fat-free mass and adiposity. Greater fat-free mass was associated with high adherence to Pattern 1. No differences in fat mass or adiposity were associated with this pattern. High adherence to Pattern 2 was associated with greater birth weight, fat mass and adiposity. The authors noted that these findings may not apply to women from minority ethnic or racial groups or those under 20 years of age, as they were underrepresented in this study.

The overall results show that diet during pregnancy may influence body composition and weight of newborns, possibly by affecting the mother’s fasting glucose concentrations. It is unknown whether these factors will have long-term effects on the child’s future body composition and risk of developing obesity: future studies are required to address these questions.


Written By: Natasha Tetlow, PhD

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