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High sugar intake in pregnancy may raise childhood allergy risk

Pearl Toh
21 Aug 2017

High free sugar intake during pregnancy was associated with a heightened risk of allergy and allergic asthma in the children, independent of their sugar intake during early childhood, according to the ALSPAC* study.

Although high intake of sweet drinks in children has been associated with asthma in previous studies, the relation between mother’s sugar consumption during pregnancy and childhood asthma and allergy in the offspring is unknown. [Eur J Clin Nutr 2015;69:303-308; Int J Paediatr Dent 2010;20:165-172]

The longitudinal population-based cohort study included 8,956 mother-child pairs residing in Avon, UK, who were followed annually with food frequency questionnaires on their weekly consumption frequency of 43 food groups/items. Physician-diagnosed childhood asthma was reported by the mothers and allergy was assessed by a positive skin prick test to common allergens at age 7. [Eur Respir J 2017;doi:10.1183/13993003.00073-2017]

After adjusting for potential confounders, children of mothers who consumed the highest quintile of free sugar during pregnancy were 38 percent more likely to develop allergy at age 7 than those whose mothers had the lowest quintile of sugar consumption (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 1.38; p-trend=0.006).

Risk of allergic asthma was also more than doubled in children of mothers within the highest quintile vs the lowest quintile of sugar intake during pregnancy (OR, 2.01; p-trend=0.004).

However, associations between maternal sugar intake during pregnancy and childhood asthma (OR, 1.31; p-trend=0.09) or wheeze (OR, 1.42; p-trend=0.08) trended towards positive but were not statistically significant.    

No associations were found between maternal sugar intake in pregnancy and eczema or hay fever.

The main findings above remained after additional adjustment for background maternal characteristics and maternal diet, including nutrients and foods previously known to be associated with childhood allergy and asthma. Also, the findings held true even after adjusting for the child’s free sugar consumption at age 3. 

“We cannot say on the basis of these observations that a high intake of sugar by mothers in pregnancy is definitely causing allergy and allergic asthma in their offspring,” said study senior investigator Professor Seif Shaheen from Queen Mary University of London, UK. “However, given the extremely high consumption of sugar in the West, we will certainly be investigating this hypothesis further with some urgency.”

“In the meantime, we would recommend that pregnant women follow current guidelines and avoid excessive sugar consumption,” he advised.

The current international dietary guidelines advise reducing sugar consumption, in particular free sugars, which according to the authors, “comprise sugars (monosaccharides and disaccharides) added to foods or drinks by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, and unsweetened fruit juices.” [www.gov.uk/government/publications/sacn-carbohydrates-and-health-report]

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