July 1, 2009 / 8:34 PM / in 9 years

Maternal diet affects infant's long-term bone health

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women who maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet during pregnancy have children with bigger and stronger bones than women with poorer quality diets, according to the results of a study presented Tuesday at the National Osteoporosis Society Conference in Manchester, UK.

“Our data add to evidence that environmental influences during intrauterine life alter the trajectory of skeletal development in the offspring,” study presenter Dr. Zoe Cole of the University of Southampton told Reuters Health.

When the researchers assessed the diets of 198 pregnant women, two general patterns began to emerge. The first was a healthy dietary pattern filled with lots of fruits and vegetables, yogurt, whole wheat bread and breakfast cereals. The second diet pattern was less healthy and included large amounts of foods such as chips and roast potatoes, sugar, white bread, processed meat, tinned vegetables and soft drinks.

Bone assessments of the children made up to age 9 years suggested that consuming a healthy maternal diet was associated with greater bone size and density in the offspring.

“Children born to mothers with the healthiest diets, as identified by in the highest quarter of prudent diet score, during late pregnancy had an 11 percent greater whole body bone mineral content and 8 percent great whole body bone area than those born to mothers with the least healthy diet, the lowest quarter of this distribution,” Cole said.

Even when mothers were grouped by smoking status, vitamin D status and social class, the differences in diet still had a significant impact on their children’s bones, the researchers found. The relationship between a healthy maternal diet and healthier bones in offspring remained even after the child’s height, weight, arm circumference and birth weight were considered.

“A healthy diet during pregnancy has long lasting effects on the development of the child’s bones,” Cole said, and this may lower their future risk of osteoporosis, a potentially disabling bone-thinning disease.

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