Fetal Programming: Expectant Mothers’ Eating Habits and Future Health Consequences

An expectant mother’s unhealthy diet can increase the risk of disease for the fetus

Expectant mothers should be more mindful of their eating habits, according to a new study conducted at the University of Turku. A study by specialist researcher Ella Koivuniemi found that many expectant mothers do not consume enough nutrients to support the growth and development of both the fetus and themselves. Koivuniemi recommends pregnant women to consume at least five servings of plant-based foods daily, but only half of the women in the study met this recommendation.

A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and berries is crucial during pregnancy because these foods are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and folic acid, which is essential for preventing birth defects. While taking a folic acid supplement is recommended, Koivuniemi emphasizes the importance of obtaining nutrients from food as well. Folic acid deficiency can lead to neural tube closure disorders, which are rare in Finland but carry significant risks.

The fetus can adapt to its environment during pregnancy through fetal programming, which can impact the child’s later life. The mother’s obesity and poor diet can affect the fetus’s metabolism, increasing the child’s risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes. Epigenetics plays a role in this phenomenon, with evidence suggesting that the fetus’s metabolism may adapt to store fat efficiently during times of need, leading to future health challenges. Research on epigenetics in humans is ongoing and complex, with evidence from cross-generational population studies supporting its role in human health.

In addition to studying expectant mothers, Koivuniemi’s research also examined the eating habits of children under school age. The study found that most children did not consume enough vegetables and fruits, with only one percent meeting the recommended five servings per day. Quality of diet in children was also assessed, with just 14 percent eating well while the majority had moderate to poor diets. The challenges in implementing nutritional recommendations for both expectant mothers and young children may be due to factors like busy lifestyles

Sophia Reynolds

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