The battle against diabetes and obesity begins in the womb

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New research shows how the diet of a pregnant mother can impact the health of her unborn child, in particular when it comes to the risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In addition, a pregnant woman’s diet could also cause obesity in her children. And the health effects of childhood obesity can last a lifetime.

When I read this latest research, I immediately got in contact with nutritionist, Martin Hum to get his view on the matter.

Preventing a life of ill-health for your unborn child 

Around one in 20 pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, a condition that makes their unborn child susceptible to obesity, blood sugar problems and type 2 diabetes as they grow up. But increasingly, research is indicating that the mother’s diet during pregnancy is also an important factor.

For instance, a new study shows that children born to Danish women with gestational diabetes whose diets included large amounts of refined grain products – such as bread, pasta, biscuits and breakfast cereals – are more likely to be obese by age seven than children whose mothers had gestational diabetes but didn’t eat these foods. The link remained even after adjusting for the children’s diet and lifestyles.

The same research team found that women (without gestational diabetes) who consumed “diet” fizzy drinks containing artificial sweeteners every day during their pregnancy doubled their child’s risk of obesity compared to women who drank water. This increase in obesity risk in the children was the same as if the mother drank sugar-sweetened beverages daily during her pregnancy.

Child obesity is increasing at an alarming rate, with one in every three 10-year-olds in the UK now overweight or obese. And the effects of childhood obesity are likely to last a lifetime (and make that lifetime a shorter one, too).

Another recent study from the University of Surrey that examined the records of 300,000 people concluded that those who were obese in childhood were far more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and thickened arterial walls as adults, increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease.

There is plenty more research linking maternal diet during pregnancy with both major types of diabetes in children. A Spanish study found that women who ate a lot of saturated fat, and little polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats while pregnant were more likely to have babies with high blood sugar and insulin levels, setting them up for type 2 diabetes. The same went for those who consumed more omega-6 fatty acids from cheap cooking oils than omega-3 from oily fish.

Another study carried out in mice suggests a pregnant woman’s consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, could increase her child’s risk of type 1 diabetes. Gluten is well-known as the causative factor in coeliac disease, and it has also been linked to a wide range of other autoimmune conditions, including type 1 diabetes.

None of this is rocket science, of course. A diet based on fresh, natural produce that excludes sugar, artificial sweeteners and refined carbs, while being low in gluten, saturated fat and omega-6 oils, is going to help everybody’s health, including that of pregnant women and the babies they are carrying. So, perhaps it’s time some foods carried the same sort of warning as cigarettes – “Eating This Could Harm Your Unborn Child”.

Here’s to your good health,

Martin Hum

For The Daily Health

Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


Zhu Y, Olsen SF, Mendola P et al. Maternal dietary intakes of refined grains during pregnancy and growth through the first 7 y of life among children born to women with gestational diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Jun 7 (Online ahead of print).

Zhu Y, Olsen SF, Mendola P et al. Maternal consumption of artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy, and offspring growth through 7 years of age: a prospective cohort study. Int J Epidemiol. 2017 Jun 6 (Online ahead of print).

Ajala O, Mold F, Boughton C, Cooke D, Whyte M. Childhood predictors of cardiovascular disease in adulthood. A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2017 May 25 (Online ahead of print).

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  • This is so important to know for pregnant women. What you feed yourself while you are expecting, you also feed your unborn child. Common sense really. But many women don’t realise this.

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