Mothers who consume high levels of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) during pregnancy may have fatter children, while those who have higher levels of omega-3 may have more lean children, according to the findings of new research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
The study, led by Dr Nicholas Harvey from the University of Southampton, UK, examined the relationship between maternal levels of PUFAs and the body fat make-up of their children in more than 250 mother-child pairs. The team found that levels of omega-6 PUFA in the mother’s blood during pregnancy were positively associated with their children’s fat mass at the ages of four and six.
"Obesity is a rising problem in this country and there have been very few studies of mother's fatty acid levels during pregnancy and offspring fat mass,” said Harvey. “These results suggest that alterations to maternal diet during pregnancy to reduce omega-6 PUFAs intake might have a beneficial effect on the body composition of the developing child."
Dr Rebecca Moon, who was also involved in the study added: "Omega-6 and omega-3 PUFAs seem to act in opposite directions on fat mass; previous trials have attempted to use omega-3 supplementation to reduce fat mass, but our results suggest that such an approach might work best when combined with a reduction in dietary omega-6 intake."
The research team assessed the fat and muscle mass of 293 boys and girls at four and six years, who are part of the Southampton Women's Survey (SWS), a large prospective mother-offspring cohort. These assessments were then compared to the concentrations of PUFAs which were measured in blood samples collected from their mothers during pregnancy.
Harvey and his colleagues found that mothers with high plasma levels of omega-6 PUFAs – which are at high levels found in vegetable cooking oils and nuts – were more likely to have children with a greater fat mass.
The findings also showed weaker associations between a mother's levels of omega-3 PUFAs, commonly found in fish oils, and muscle mass in their offspring – with the a high level of omega-3 predicting less fat and more muscle and bone in the child.
"This work should help us to design interventions aimed at optimising body composition in childhood and later adulthood and thus improve the health of future generations,” added Professor Cyrus Cooper, also of University of Southampton, UK.
Source: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Published online before print, doi:10.1210/jc.2012-2482
“Maternal Plasma Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Status in Late Pregnancy Is Associated with Offspring Body Composition in Childhood”
Authors: R. J. Moon, N. C. Harvey, S. M. Robinson, G. Ntani, et al