A collaborative study published in the International Journal of Obesity by researchers at Cornell University and the University of Rochester Medical Center found that the amount of added sugar (read: baked goods and soda) teen mothers eat during pregnancy affects the body composition of their babies. The study suggests that extremely high added-sugar in a young mother’s diet leads to increased fetal abdominal fat deposition. Since abdominal fat in children and adults has been associated with long-term health problems like obesity, hypertension and diabetes, the researchers think fetal abdominal fat could set the stage for future health issues.
Adult mothers’ health has been widely studied and is known to have profound effects on infant health. Recently, researchers have found that diet composition of adult mothers affects fetal fat deposition. In the current study, Eva Pressman, M.D., chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital and colleagues sought to identify components of adolescent mothers’ diets that may spell trouble for their unborn children.
“We know that teen diets are not as well-rounded as adult diets might be”, says Pressman. “We try to provide a lot of education about good nutrition during pregnancy, but the teens don’t always follow our recommendations – nor is it easy for them to do so. They are not always in control of what food they have access to.”
The study followed teens enrolled in the Rochester Adolescent Maternity Program at URMC through three stages of pregnancy. Mothers’ diets were recorded based on 24-hour recall at three regular prenatal care visits. Diets were analyzed for fat, protein and carbohydrate composition and each of these measures was adjusted for the total calories consumed. Carbohydrates were further stratified into natural sugars, like those occurring in fruits and vegetables, and added sugars, like those found in soft drinks and baked goods. Sonograms were taken at each visit and fetal abdominal fat was measured as the thickness of the abdominal wall on cross-section images of the fetus’ abdomen.
The study, which was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has its limitations, but the researchers feel confident in recommending young mothers (and everyone) limit their sweets. “In general, a healthy diet does not include a lot of added sugar,” says Pressman. “Simple sugars increase your risk for weight gain, gestational diabetes and complications of pregnancy. For the best pregnancy outcomes, it is important to gain weight within the recommended guidelines and consume a healthy well-balanced diet that contains fruit and vegetables.”
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