Mother’s diet has life-long implications for children

A mother’s diet before and during pregnancy can help determine when a daughter reaches puberty and her own reproductive capacity later in life, according a paper authored by Liggins Institute researchers and appearing in the online journal PLoS One today.

A mother's diet can have life-long implications for her children
A mother's diet can have life-long implications for her children

Globally, a dramatic decrease in age at the start of puberty is occurring. Over the past century, it has fallen in Europe from 17 to 12.5 years, and studies have shown that this is not solely due to changes in childhood nutrition.

The latest research examines the role that a pregnant mother’s diet can play in “locking in” early onset of puberty in her children, regardless of what they eat after they are born.

A study of female rats by the researchers found that both a high fat diet and a calorie-restricted diet during pregnancy significantly decreased the age of puberty for the offspring. However, results showed important hormonal differences in these two groups once they reached adulthood that could influence reproductive success.

They also found that prenatal nutrition did more to lower the age of puberty than any later changes to the child’s diet.

Dr Deborah M Sloboda, Senior Research Fellow at the Liggins Institute and the National Research Centre for Growth and Development at the University of Auckland, co-author of the paper comments:

“Rather than being a cause for alarm, our results highlight the potential for women to positively influence their children’s future health by making sensible and balanced nutritional choices before and during pregnancy.”

Dr Elaine Rush, Professor of Nutrition at the Auckland University of Technology comments:

“As stated in the press release these findings emphasise the importance and potential for women to influence their children’s future health.  This paper demonstrated that a high fat diet during pregnancy and infancy is associated with early onset of puberty.

“But do women have control over the foods they eat? Is it a choice or a behaviour change that can be achieved by an individual?  And is it just about fat or calories in food?  What about the other nutrients like vitamins and minerals and in whole foods? There is no evidence that this individual nutrient or person approach will work particularly in a recession.

“National leadership is required for a multi-faceted and very long term approach so that education, legislation, transportation and urban planning and food security issues are addressed with a common purpose. A public health campaign is required! We did have one! What has happened to the Healthy Eating Healthy action programme and Mission On? Once we were named in The Lancet in 2006 as world leaders in public health initiatives aimed at curbing the obesity epidemic. Our score card does not look so good now and food bank usage is rising.”

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