Ultra-processed food intake in mothers linked to obesity in children 

Ultra-processed food intake in mothers linked to obesity in children
© iStock/monkeybusinessimages

A new study shows that the offspring of mothers consuming ultra-processed foods have a higher risk of being overweight or obese.   

The researchers published their findings in The BMJ, noting that further studies are needed to confirm these findings and to understand the factors responsible. They also suggested that mothers may benefit from limiting their intake of ultra-processed food and that dietary guidelines should remove any financial and social barriers to improve nutrition for women of childbearing age and reduce childhood obesity. 

Ultra-processed foods, such as packaged baked goods and snacks, are commonly found in modern Western-style diets and are associated with weight gain in adults; however, it remains unclear whether a mother’s consumption of ultra-processed foods affects offspring’s body weight. 

Uncovering if mothers’ food intake affects children

The team used data for 19,958 children born to 14,553 mothers (45% boys, aged seven-17 years) from the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II) and the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS I and II) in the United States. 

The NHS ll tracked the health and lifestyles of nurses, and from 1991, the participants reported what they ate and drank, using validated food frequency questionnaires every four years. The GUTS l study includes the children of the NHS ll participants. 

A range of other potentially influential factors known to be strongly correlated with childhood obesity were also accounted for. This includes the mother’s weight (BMI), physical activity, smoking, living status (with a partner or not), and partner’s education, along with children’s ultra-processed food consumption, physical activity, and sedentary time. 

Overall, 2471 (12%) children developed obesity or became overweight during an average follow-up period of four years. 

26% higher risk of obesity or being overweight

The results showed that a mother’s ultra-processed food consumption was associated with an increased risk of overweight or obesity in her offspring. They saw a 26% higher risk in the group with the highest maternal ultra-processed food consumption (12.1 servings a day) versus the lowest consumption group (3.4 servings per day). 

Furthermore, a separate analysis of 2,790 mothers and their 2,925 children used diet data from three months pre-conception to delivery (peripregnancy) and found that peripregnancy ultra-processed food intake was not significantly associated with the increased risk of offspring obesity or being overweight. 

As this study is observational, it cannot establish a cause and the researchers understand that some of the observed risks may be due to other unmeasured factors, and self-reported diet and weight may be subject to misreporting. Other important limitations include that some offspring died during the follow-up, meaning some analyses are underpowered, particularly related to peripregnancy intake. The mothers were predominately white, and from similar social and economic backgrounds, therefore, the results may not apply to other groups. 

Subscribe to our newsletter


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here