Pregnancy diet breakthrough could help childhood obesity and UK is leading the way

We know that what happens to an unborn baby in the womb can affect a child for the rest of its life, not just when they are an infant, and ­nothing is more important to the unborn baby than what the mum-to-be eats.

Indeed, what we’re learning is that her pregnancy diet goes a long way to determining the long-term health of the child.

The most common risk factor for an unborn baby within childbirth is maternal obesity which not only predicts how the mother comes through the birth, but also the healthy development of her child through childhood and adolescence to adulthood. In fact all the way through her child’s life.

We already know that maternal obesity in pregnancy carries an increased risk of the child dying prematurely when they grow into an adult, specifically due to cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.

It’s therefore crucial that we ­understand the consequences of the obesity epidemic, not just in terms of pregnancy outcome, but also in terms of the potential impact on the health of the next generation. Diet and ­nutrition in pregnancy and early infant life are risk factors we can modify so, with the right approach, we could stem the likelihood of childhood obesity and disease in adulthood.

We’ve already learned a lot from animal studies, which have been able to probe the effects of altering maternal diet during critical windows of development, such as pregnancy and breastfeeding.

To this end, a team of researchers led by Dr Paul Taylor from the School of Life Course Sciences, King’s College, London has recently identified a compound, polydextrose, which has been found to improve the way the body handles obesity in pregnancy in studies involving animals.

Polydextrose is a soluble dietary fibre, resistant to digestion. In fact, it’s a probiotic that promotes healthy bacteria in the gut (the microbiome).

Despite the recent advances in microbiome research, there are still many unanswered questions about the influence of the ­mother’s gut microbiome on pregnancy, birth and the health of the unborn baby.

What the research has uncovered is the interplay between the maternal microbiome and the baby’s microbiome which may confer protection against disease for the baby.

To build on this revealing research we need studies in obese pregnant women, particularly at the Women’s Health Academic Centre at King’s, which has extensive experience conducting these kind of large-scale trials.

Let’s hope they get this essential research off the ground.