Mothers who eat processed foods risk obesity in children

Researchers say dietary guidelines should be refined to improve nutrition for women who want to have children.  

In a study published by The BMJ, American researchers found a mother’s intake of ‘ultra-processed foods’ is linked to an increased risk of obesity in children.  

Researchers analysed data from 19,958 children aged between seven to 17, that were born to 14,553 mothers.  

burger beside fried potatoes with drinking glass

The data was collected by two studies conducted in the US which are known as the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II) and Growing Up Today Study (GUTS). 

NHS II is an ongoing investigation which tracks the health of over 100,000 US female nurses aged between 25-42. From 1991 participants have been reporting what they eat and drink, using validated food questionnaires every four years.  

The GUTS began in 1996, where 16,882 children of NHS II participants have completed health and lifestyle questionnaires every year between 1997 and 2001 and are monitored every two years.  

As well as looking at food consumption, the studies take into consideration a mother’s weight, physical activity, smoking, whether the live with a partner and their education.  

After following up the studies after four years, researchers found 12% of children had become over-weight or obese.  

The study also revealed that a 26% higher risk of child obesity was discovered in the group of mothers that consumed the most processed foods. Some women were found to be eating 12.1 servings of processed food a day.  

Researchers involved in the study acknowledge the data they analysed may be a misrepresentation due to other unmeasured factors and that self-reported diet and weight measures might be subject to misreporting. 

Other limitations in the data include some children failing to follow up with their answers.    

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has spoken about the obesity crisis before, having recorded 39 million children under the age of five were classed as overweight or obese in 2020 and nationally, the issue has tripled since 1975.  

Dr Tedros, Director General of WHO said: ‘To prevent obesity it is important to start as early as possible. We must ensure everyone has access to a healthy diet and is able to engage in physical activity.’ 

Researchers who looked at the data say further study is required to confirm these findings, but the findings ‘support the importance of refining dietary recommendations and the development of programs to improve nutrition for women of reproductive age to promote offspring health.’  

Photo by Christopher Williams


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