Mama's Diet Shapes Kid's Diabetes Risk

Diabetes risk factors found in newborns of mothers with inadequate diets during pregnancy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) A pregnant mother's diet plays a key role in her child's development and health. If you are pregnant, eating an unhealthy diet could boost your child's chances of developing diabetes.

According to a recent study, women who did not eat properly during pregnancy were more likely to have newborns with high levels of blood sugar and insulin - two signs of diabetes risk.

Pregnant women with poorer diets were 7.6 times more likely to have children with high blood sugar and 6.7 times more likely to have children with high levels of insulin.

"Eat healthy to protect your unborn child from diabetes."

The study was conducted by Francisco J. Sánchez-Muniz, PhD, of Complutense University of Madrid, and colleagues.

Previous research had already shown that pregnant mothers who do not eat enough food may be cutting off the supply of glucose (sugar) to the brains of their unborn children. This can reduce the growth of the unborn child.

However, the specific effects of fat, protein and carbohydrate intake on the baby are less known, said Dr. Sánchez-Muniz.

"In other words, the effect during pregnancy of Western diets that vary greatly from [Mediterranean diets] is not well-known," he said.

The Mediterranean diet is one of many healthy diet plans, which include fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains while limiting unhealthy fats. The idea is to eat foods high in nutrients and avoid many of the high-fat and processed foods so common in the United States.

Results from the current study showed women who ate the right amount and kinds of food during pregnancy had a higher chance of giving birth to children of a normal weight, or about 7.28 pounds to 7.72 pounds.

"Nonetheless, more than half of women have low quality diets that include a high amount of animal products rich in saturated fats yet a low amount of carbohydrates from vegetables and pulses (types of beans and peas). Furthermore, more than a third of women displayed eating habits that differ greatly from the Mediterranean diet," said Dr. Sánchez-Muniz.

According to experts, pregnant women who do not eat properly are at risk of having children with a diabetogenic profile, meaning the child has high levels of blood sugar and insulin and signs of insulin resistance.

Insulin is a natural hormone that helps turn sugar in the blood into energy for the body. In people with diabetes, blood sugar levels may rise as the result of insulin resistance - a condition in which the body cannot properly use insulin.

"It is vital to make mothers aware of the importance of eating well during pregnancy with a balanced Mediterranean diet," Dr. Sánchez-Muniz concluded.

"We must also push for studies amongst the same population group in order to understand how children will develop over time and thus avoid, or at least mitigate, the development of high prevalence diseases [such as diabetes] within our society," he said.

For their study, Dr. Sánchez-Muniz and colleagues looked at markers of insulin sensitivity and resistance in the children of 35 women whose diets were 'adequate' or 'inadequate' according to their Healthy Eating Index scores and their Mediterranean Diet Adherence scores.

The Health Eating Index is a measure of diet quality with scores that range from 0 to 100, where 0 is the poorest diet and 100 is the best.

Mediterranean Diet Adherence measures how well people stick to a Mediterranean diet. It is a 13-point scale.

For this study, a Healthy Eating Index score of more than 70 was considered an adequate diet and a score of 70 or less was considered inadequate. A Mediterranean Diet Adherence score of 7 or more was considered adequate while a score of less than 7 was inadequate.

Women who had lower Healthy Eating Index scores ate fewer carbohydrates, less fiber and more fats and cholesterol. Those with lower Mediterranean Diet Adherence scores had diets that contained less fiber, more cholesterol, lower levels of unsaturated fats, and higher levels of saturated fats and cholesterol.

Women who had low scores on either diet measure had low blood sugar but delivered babies with high levels of insulin, high insulin resistance and high blood sugar - all of which put the child at risk of developing diabetes.

The research was published in September in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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Review Date: 
December 6, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013