Pregnancy Diet High in Refined Grains May Increase Risk of Childhood Obesity: NIH

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09 Jun 2017 --- Children born to women with gestational diabetes whose diet included high proportions of refined grains may have a higher risk of obesity by age 7, compared to children born to women with gestational diabetes who ate low proportions of refined grains, according to results of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study. These findings, which appear online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, were part of the Diabetes & Women's Health Study, a research project led by NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

Gestational diabetes, or high blood sugar during pregnancy, affects about 5 percent of all pregnancies in the US and may lead to health problems for mothers and newborns. The authors noted that previous studies have linked diets high in refined grains such as white rice  to obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The researchers compared records from 918 mother-child pairs who took part in the Danish National Birth Cohort, a study that followed the pregnancies of more than 91,000 women in Denmark. They found that children born to women with gestational diabetes who consumed the most refined grain (more than 156 grams per day) were twice as likely to be obese at age 7, compared to children born to women with gestational diabetes who ate the least amount of refined grain (less than 37 grams per day). 

The link between maternal grain consumption during pregnancy and obesity by age 7 persisted when the researchers controlled for factors that could potentially influence the children's weight such as physical activity level and consumption of vegetables, fruit and sweets. The authors called for additional studies to confirm their results and to follow children through later childhood, adolescence and adulthood to see if the obesity risk persists later in life.

Earlier the NIH reported that, based on the same study, researchers had found that children born to women who had gestational diabetes and drank at least one artificially sweetened beverage per day during pregnancy were more likely to be overweight or obese at age 7, compared to children born to women who had gestational diabetes and drank water instead of artificially sweetened beverages.

In response to the study, Ailbhe Fallon, a consultant to the food industry, stressed that the epidemiological study does not bear scrutiny in terms of plausible mechanism of action.

“It is widely acknowledged that babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes have a higher risk of being heavy at birth, and a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life. Recent work at Imperial College London also points to the babies having higher levels of fat,” she notes.

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