How your diet affects your child’s neurodevelopment

The research showed that 2-year-old children whose mothers had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes had poorer language skills than children whose mothers had not been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

A new study conducted at the University of Turku has shown that maternal gestational diabetes mellitus can have a negative impact on the neurological development of 2-year-old children. Conversely, the study found that a mother’s healthy and balanced diet supports the child’s neurological development.

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Turku and University Hospital of Turku in Finland has highlighted the crucial role that a mother’s health and lifestyle play in regulating her child’s neural development. The study specifically examined the effects of maternal gestational diabetes, obesity and diet during pregnancy on the neurodevelopment of 2-year-old children.

The research project examined the development of children’s cognitive, language and motor skills. Maternal obesity was determined by air displacement plethysmography and gestational diabetes with an oral glucose tolerance test. Food intake during pregnancy was assessed using the Nutritional Quality Index and fish consumption questionnaires.

“On average, the neurodevelopment of children in our data was within the normal range. Our research results showed that 2-year-old children whose mothers had gestational diabetes had poorer language skills than children whose mothers did not have gestational diabetes,” says PhD student Lotta Saros from the Institute of Biomedicine at the University of Turku.

In addition, the study found that higher maternal body fat was associated with weaker cognitive, language, and motor skills in children.

“Our observation is unique because previous studies have not examined the relationship between maternal body composition and infant neurodevelopment,” notes Saros.

Gestational diabetes and obesity, especially high body fat mass, adversely affect the mother’s metabolism and increase inflammation in the body. In fact, these are the likely mechanisms by which the deleterious factors affect the child’s neurological development.

Maternal nutrition during pregnancy can affect a child’s neurological development

The study also showed that better nutritional quality in the mother’s diet was associated with better child language development. A similar finding was also discovered between the mother’s fish consumption and the child’s neurological development.

The results suggest the same conclusion that a high-quality diet contains unsaturated fatty acids, such as those found in fish. Soft, unsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, promote neurological development in children.

“A healthy, comprehensive diet during pregnancy can be particularly beneficial for the neurological development of children whose mothers belong to the risk group for gestational diabetes due to overweight or obesity,” says Professor Kirsi Laitinen, who leads the research group “Early Nutrition and Health” at the university Turku, which conducted the study.

Reference: “Maternal obesity, gestational diabetes mellitus, and diet in Association with neurodevelopment of 2-year-old children” by Lotta Saros, Annika Lind, Sirkku Setänen, Kristiina Tertti, Ella Koivuniemi, Annarilla Ahtola, Leena Haataja, Nitin Shivappa, James R. Hébert, Tero Vahlberg and Kirsi Laitinen, January 3, 2023, Pediatric Research.
DOI: 10.1038/s41390-022-02455-4

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