STUDY: High-fat diet during pregnancy could impact baby’s mental health

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Researchers behind a new study believe the current obesity problem in the United States, could have a lasting mental health impact on future generations. The study focused specifically on diet during pregnancy.

The research showed mothers who eat a high-fat diet during pregnancy could be harming the development of their children’s brains and their early mental health.

Researchers out of Oregon performed the study on 65 monkeys during pregnancy. They said prior similar studies have been done on humans and showed similar results, but it’s more difficult to strictly control people’s diets.

One startling finding in this study, they found of the 135 offspring analyzed, both male and female offspring exposed to a high-fat diet during pregnancy seemed to be more anxious. Specifically, exposure to unhealthy eating during pregnancy and early in life impaired the development of serotonin in baby’s brains, which can affect mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep and memory.

IU Health associate professor and OB-GYN Dr. Nikki Scott said we need to dispel the thought that pregnant women are eating for two and instead treat weight gain as a vital sign.

“Weight gain, most of it’s going to come at the end of the pregnancy, but to understand what the goals are at the beginning of the pregnancy as well as before getting pregnant is even more ideal. A woman should be at her healthiest, including healthiest weight before even getting pregnant,” Dr. Scott said. “Controlling weight gain in pregnancy has profound impact for the rest of their lives. As someone that’s had two kids myself, it’s really hard to get the weight off after pregnancy and if we can control that before, it’s going to set up the woman for a healthier life for the rest of her life.”

Dr. Scott says it’s not just about limiting high-fat foods, but controlling weight gain in general.

The researchers in Oregon hope the study’s findings will raise awareness about healthy eating, as well as pre- and post-natal care to avoid mental health disorders in future generations.

This is something for women in the U.S. to really consider, since about two-thirds of women in the reproductive age group are overweight and about half of those are obese.

Pregnant women really shouldn’t increase calorie intake at all during the first trimester, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Then later in pregnancy an additional 300 to 500 calories is suggested, but those should be healthy foods, high in protein and fiber, not necessarily cookies and ice cream.

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