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Diet quality during pregnancy may influence neonatal adiposity

Roshini Claire Anthony
06 Apr 2018

A better quality of diet during pregnancy is associated with lower neonatal adiposity and longer infant length at birth, according to findings from the GUSTO* study.

A total of 1,051 pregnant women at 26–28 weeks gestation provided information on their dietary intake through 24-hour recalls and 3-day food diaries. Using these details, researchers assessed diet quality based on the Healthy Eating Index for pregnant women in Singapore (HEI-SGP; mean score 52.1). There were 76 preterm births (<37 weeks gestation) and the mean birth weight and length were 3,090 g and 48.6 cm, respectively.

A stronger adherence to the HEI-SGP – defined as each 10-point increase in the HEI-SGP score – was associated with a lower body mass index (-0.07 kg/m2, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], -0.13 to -0.01 kg/m2; p<0.05) and lower sum of triceps and subscapular skinfold thickness in infants at birth (-0.15, 95 percent CI, -0.26 to -0.05; p<0.01) as well as a longer length at birth (β, 0.14 cm, 95 percent CI, 0.03–0.24; p<0.05). [Am J Clin Nutr 2018;107:71-79]

In a subset of infants for whom body composition data was available (n=313), each 10-point increase in HEI-SGP score was tied to a lower percentage of body fat (-0.52 percent, 95 percent CI, -0.84 to -0.20 percent; p<0.01) and lower fat mass (-17.23 g, 95 percent CI, -29.52 to -4.94 g; p<0.01), while among infants who underwent MRI (n=316), each 10-point increase in HEI-SGP score was associated with lower percentages of abdominal superficial and deep subcutaneous adipose tissue (-0.16 percent and -0.06 percent, respectively; p<0.05 for each comparison).

The results did not reveal any association between diet quality during pregnancy and preterm birth or infant birth weight. The association between HEI-SGP score and birth length was attenuated after excluding the use of iron, folate, and calcium antenatal supplements, a finding which researchers suggest highlights the potential role of these nutrients in the link between HEI-SGP score and birth length.

“Because the requirements for these three micronutrients increase during pregnancy … it is possible that a better quality diet, including adequate intakes of these three micronutrients, may improve birth outcomes even in well-nourished populations,” they said.

As the association between HEI-SGP score and neonatal adiposity did not significantly change when individual components of the HEI-SGP score were excluded, it may be that multiple – and not individual – components of the diet may influence neonatal adiposity, they continued.  

“Neonatal adiposity may be associated with childhood obesity, and given the globally increasing trend of childhood obesity and consequent risk of chronic disease, examinations of infant body composition and adiposity are valuable and critical,” said the researchers.

“[W]e observed that maternal diet quality, as assessed by the HEI-SGP, was associated with longer birth length and lower neonatal adiposity [though not with birth weight or preterm birth] in a multi-ethnic Asian cohort,” they said.

The researchers acknowledged that as diet quality was measured at 26–28 weeks gestation, it may not necessarily be reflective of diet throughout pregnancy.

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