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Pregnant women’s diet can affect childhood obesity

Eating foods like sausage and sugary drinks increases the risk of being overweight or obese in children by 26% (Illustration image – Pixabay)

The way parents eat affects the weight of their children, and this is well known. But now, a study based on three studies has shown that the type of diet a mother eats during pregnancy can also lead to overweight and obesity in the baby. The article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), from Harvard University, found statistical associations between consumption of ultra-processed foods – such as sausage, instant noodles and soda – during pregnancy and a higher body mass index (BMI) of the child during pregnancy.

Although the work is observational, that is, it does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship, the authors stress the importance of further research on the effect of ingestion of this type of food product on offspring during pregnancy. The article says that levels of overweight and obesity around the world are increasing, including among children, making new ways of coping essential. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2020, 39 million boys and girls were obese.

The study by epidemiologist Andrew T. Chan this relationship was independent of maternal and child risk factors, such as level of physical activity, physical inactivity, maternal body mass index, and socioeconomic status. Regardless of the family’s diet after the baby was born, the fact that pregnant women reported eating large amounts of ultra-processed foods (12.1 servings/day) increased their child’s risk of being overweight or obese by 26%, compared to pregnant women. . who reported the lowest intake of these products (3.4 servings/day).

In all, three surveys were analyzed that included data from 19,958 children born to 14,553 mothers. Despite the statistical power, the authors note that there are some limitations, including little ethnicity (most participants were white) and socioeconomic diversity, meaning that the results may not apply to other groups. In addition, because it is observational, the research does not suggest mechanisms that could explain the association found.

The authors still cite potential explanations. “There are some potential mechanisms by which highly processed food intake during pregnancy may affect obesity in offspring, including genetic modification of the offspring’s susceptibility to obesity,” they wrote. Epigenetic changes are changes in DNA that can be inherited and are greatly influenced by environmental factors such as diet type.

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In addition, the researchers note, “other biological mechanisms may involve inflammatory additives in ultra-processed foods, including sodium, emulsifiers, sugar, and artificial sweeteners.” Processed foods have been linked to increased obesity in mice and humans.


Previous animal studies have shown that maternal intake of high-protein or high-fat foods during critical periods of fetal development can “program” offspring for a range of long-term metabolic consequences, including obesity, insulin resistance and obesity. Reduction in total energy expenditure. A Harvard Medical School article was cited, and other observational research has found associations between maternal intake of sugary drinks and higher BMI in children.

Dietitian Lais Murta, a graduate of functional clinical nutrition, highlighted that ultra-processed food additives cause changes in the gut flora, which in turn can lead to changes in the metabolism and immune system. “The lack of many nutrients in these products also affects the whole organism,” he says, noting that pregnant women need adequate nutrition, with the risk of harming the health of the fetus in the intrauterine period and not reversing it later.

“We know that the food environment a child is exposed to at home can affect their health. For example, if the parents follow a diet rich in ultra-processed foods and are overweight, the child is more likely to do so and is also overweight,” comments Hannah Whitaker, Pediatric Dietitian and Maternal Health Expert at the British Dietetic Association “We also recognize that a mother’s diet during pregnancy can have a positive or negative impact on birth outcomes.”

For Whitaker, the research published in the British Medical Journal expands this knowledge and opens the way to a new field of research. It is believed that “this study produced some interesting information regarding maternal dietary intake and risk of childhood overweight or obesity, and may influence public policy to ensure that certain populations receive appropriate education in this regard.”

Understand the difference

Prior to 2010, foods and food products were classified according to their major nutrients. However, with the NOVA classification adopted by many countries, it began to be divided according to the method of processing. The Food Guide for the Residents of Brazil, from the Ministry of Health, adopts this classification.

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The first group: in natural foods and minimally processed foods: those obtained from plants or animals that reach the consumer without undergoing any kind of processing. Explains Marcella Garcez, nutritionist and director of the Brazilian Association of Nutrition (OPEN). The category includes foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, milk, and eggs. “It’s usually foods that don’t have an ingredient list like the ones in the market. It’s the ingredients themselves.”

Group 2: Processed cooking ingredients: These are those that are extracted directly from Group 1 foods and consumed as preparatory ingredients in kitchens. The purpose of processing is to create products that can be used in savory and sweet dishes, soups, salads, preserves, and homemade bread. The processing steps include pressing, grinding, crushing, drying and refining. Examples: sugar, molasses, honey, table salt, oils, fats, and starch.

The third group: Processed foods: They are derived directly from natural foods, but have undergone the process of adding salt, sugar, oil or vinegar to make them more durable and pleasant to the palate. “Because it is a process that alters nutrition quality, excessive consumption can increase the risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity,” explains Abran’s director. Examples include: vegetables in brine, tomato paste, jerky, fruit in syrup, cheese, and bread.

Fourth group: Ultra-processed foods: Industrial formulations made from materials extracted or derived from other foods (salt, sugar, oils, proteins and fats) and manufactured in the laboratory (colorings, flavors, preservatives and additives). “In general, it has a long shelf life, but is nutritionally poor and rich in calories, fats and chemical additives,” the doctor warns. The ideal solution is to avoid foods such as biscuits, sweets, ice cream, cakes, and frozen and ready-to-eat products.

Prenatal Instructions

“It has already been proven by numerous studies that the diet of the mother during pregnancy and the food of the child up to two years of age is crucial for the development of diseases such as childhood obesity, diabetes and other complications in adult life. This period is crucial for future life, when epigenetic modification occurs. We are born with genes and predisposition. For some diseases. The question of their development or not, that is, whether these genes manifest themselves or not, will depend a lot on a person’s lifestyle, on environmental factors. This is called epigenetics. That is, through habits, we can influence some genetic metabolic trends. During intrauterine life and up to two years of age, this genetic modification is necessary A healthy diet A mother who is overweight or who consumes ultra-processed foods, rich in sodium and fats, has a risk factor for developing pregnancy conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure Toxicity Pregnancy and preterm birth and their neonatal complications.All of these diseases have complications that also affect the fetus.Les Murta, nutrition expert said:

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Diet gifts for kids

Routine consumption of ultra-processed foods has previously been linked to a number of health problems, including an increased risk of obesity, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and dementia. Consumption of this type of product is on the rise, according to a systematic review by the University of Milan that included 38 Brazilian studies. The National Study on Baby Food and Nutrition, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), indicated that the diet of 80% of children up to 5 years old – including children – includes ultra-processed foods in Brazil.

“It has already been shown that regular consumption of ultra-processed foods, such as ice cream, juice boxes, stuffed biscuits, instant noodles, chocolate, cakes and sausages, is a strong cause of excessive childhood weight gain, and this tendency to consume is a reflection of the effect of Marketing and permissive policies on infant nutrition,” believes CalcLab platform nutritionist Carla Lacerda, a graduate student in functional nutrition. “In the past, obesity was a problem almost exclusively in adults, but little by little, it has spread to younger and younger age groups, and reached today, it is even seriously affecting children under the age of five,” said Lais Murta.

Specializing in functional nutrition, Lays highlights that ultra-processed products are high in dopamine, meaning that they contain ingredients that stimulate the production of pleasure-related substances in the brain. Therefore, many people end up consuming it excessively and chronically. “It’s practical. Practicality is combined with fun. So, it’s very hard for people to end up not choosing them,” he says.