04 January 2006

How diet influences your baby’s life

Maternal diets can have a significant effect on the health of children many years after birth. What should you know?


1. Pregnancy diet research results
Research into the influence of diet during pregnancy on the future health of children is making great progress.

In 1998, the prestigious British Journal of Nutrition published three articles on the influence of the maternal diet on the health and intelligence of the unborn child. Most readers know that pregnant mothers should eat a well balanced diet to ensure that their babies are properly nourished during the time they spend in the womb. But what we did not realise previously is that maternal diets can have a significant effect on the health of children many years after birth.

It has now been proved that what we eat during pregnancy can make our children more intelligent. Imagine, we may be able to programme whole new generations of bright children by eating the right food during pregnancy.

2. Birth weight and degenerative diseases
One of the studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition reports on the number of heart attacks and strokes that occurred in 120 000 adult nurses in the USA.

Birth weight records were available for these nurses and when birth weights were compared to the number of heart attacks and strokes the nurses suffered, it was found that higher birth weight was a factor that protected women against these diseases. Women, who had weighed between three and four kilograms at birth, had significantly fewer heart attacks and strokes than women who had weighed less at birth.

Birth weight is a crude, but relatively good indicator of what a mother eats. Undernourished mothers who have poor diets lacking in sufficient protein, energy, minerals and vitamins generally give birth to underweight infants.

Now, it seems that low birth weight can put people at greater risk of suffering from heart disease and stroke during adulthood. Other researchers have also noted that babies born to undernourished mothers are more likely to develop diabetes in adult life.

3. Calcium supplements and hypertension
A second study, which was featured in the British Journal of Nutrition, did a follow-up on children at the age of seven years who had been born to two groups of mothers in Argentina. One group of mothers had received two grams of calcium per day during pregnancy, while the other group of mothers had not been given any additional calcium.

The children born to the calcium-supplemented mothers had lower blood pressure at seven years of age compared to the children of the unsupplemented mothers. In addition, the researchers found that the calcium supplement during pregnancy also had a positive effect on the blood pressure of the mothers.

In view of these research findings, it would seem that the answer to future health, is to ensure that the diets of pregnant moms are balanced and these women take calcium supplements.

4. Birth weight and IQ
The third study investigated intelligence in young adult men in relation to their birth weights. 43 000 young men in a region of Denmark who had been called up for military service were given a standard IQ test. Those who weighed 4,2 kg at birth had higher IQ scores than those who weighed less than 2,5 kg at birth.

Once again, balanced maternal nutrition during pregnancy seemed to have far reaching effects, not only on health, but also on mental development.

It is both exciting and daunting to think that a mother can have such a profound influence on her child’s future health, intelligence and well-being. – (Dr I V van Heerden)


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