Early healthy nutrition vital for later life | News | Rowett Centenary | The University of Aberdeen

Early healthy nutrition vital for later life

Early healthy nutrition vital for later life

What a mother eats before and during pregnancy can impact on her offspring in many ways, research at the University of Aberdeen is uncovering.

Early diet - even before a child is conceived – is not only important for the health of the baby, it may also have a role later in life in obesity, heart disease, mental health, educational achievement and economic status, according to studies underway at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health. 

Professor Paul Haggarty, Life-Long Health Theme Leader at the Rowett is leading the research. He said: “We have been working with colleagues in Aberdeen Maternity Hospital over a number of years, looking at the importance of nutrition in pregnancy for the health of the baby at birth. More recently we have begun to study groups at the other end of life to investigate the way in which factors in pregnancy can influence later health” 

“Our research has highlighted the way women are able to adapt in pregnancy to prioritise the needs of the growing fetus. These adaptations mean that a healthy pregnancy may depend as much on pre-pregnancy diet and related body composition as it does on nutrients consumed during the pregnancy. This view is backed up by a recent report from The Royal College of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.” 

“An example is polyunsaturated fat, where the levels in the baby appear to depend more on the diet of the mother before becoming pregnant than in her diet during pregnancy. We have shown how the placenta is able to selectively take the important polyunsaturated fats from the mother’s circulation to give to the fetus but this depends on the quality of her own fat stores. The importance of the mother’s fat stores can be seen in the way women typically deposit almost the same weight in fat as the weight of the baby (about 3.5kg) in the first two thirds of pregnancy to support the needs of the fat needs of the baby in the last third of pregnancy and during breastfeeding.” 

Professor Haggarty said that “Many of the nutritional problems we see in pregnancy are strongly related to deprivation status. Our work on folic acid and other nutrients suggests that women from poorer areas are multiply disadvantaged. In the case of folic acid, their diet is lower in natural folates and fewer of them take folic acid as recommended, particularly before conception. In the case of vitamin D they are triply disadvantaged. Their diet is poorer in vitamin D, and fewer of them take supplements, but they also appear to synthesise less vitamin D because they spend less time in the sun” 

“It is important to eat sensibly in pregnancy and follow advice on supplement use. Our research suggests that improving the diet of younger women generally, with a focus on the most disadvantaged women, would be an effective way to improve the nutrition of the baby and it may even have beneficial effects in later life”. 

“It is now accepted that giving every child the best start in life is crucial to reducing health inequalities across the life course and The Chief Medical Officer for Scotland is very focused on what happens in pregnancy and the early years” said Professor Haggarty. “Breaking the transmission of disadvantage across the generations is one of Scotland’s biggest health challenges and ensuring a good diet in mothers-to-be could contribute to achieving that goal”

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