New research has linked levels of body fat in children to the Vitamin D intake of their mothers.
It appears that children are more likely to be fatter if their mother had low levels of Vitamin D during pregnancy.
The research was conducted by scientists at the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU), University of Southampton. This study looked at the vitamin D status of 977 pregnant women, and then investigated the body composition of their children at three weeks old, and at the ages of 4 and 6.
The analysis took factors such as maternal height, age, number of children, education, and smoking into consideration, as well as vitamin D intake from food and supplements. The study also took into account other factors such as the amount of weight gain in pregnancy, or the amount of physical activity of the children.
After controlling these variables, the findings from this study showed that the children who were born to mothers who had low vitamin D status in pregnancy had more body fat when they were six years old.
The researchers suggest that Vitamin D deficiency in the womb might ‘pre-programme’ the baby to gain excess body fat later in childhood.
Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director of the unit that conducted the research said that the study underlined life-long effects of maternal nutrition: "The observations that maternal vitamin D insufficiency might be associated with reduced size at birth, but accelerated gain in body fat during early childhood, add to the considerable amount of evidence suggesting that vitamin D status during pregnancy may have critical effects on the later health of offspring."
Study leader Dr Siân Robinson maintained that further research is needed, but emphasised the importance of understanding the consequences of nutrition in pregnancy. "In the context of current concerns about low vitamin D status in young women, and increasing rates of childhood obesity in the UK, we need to understand more about the long-term health consequences for children who are born to mothers who have low vitamin D status.”
Indeed there are growing concerns about levels of Vitamin D in young women. An estimated 50% of those in the UK are believed to have insufficient levels of this essential nutrient. It is currently recommended that pregnant women should supplement 10 micrograms of Vitamin D each day. Unfortunately many women are unaware of this recommendation and supplementation is not routine.
If you are currently pregnant, or trying to conceive, a suitable multi-vitamin is one of the best steps you can take to safeguard the health of your future children. Vitamin D levels are listed in either micrograms (mcg) or International Units (IU). 10 micrograms is equivalent to 400 International Units.
Alongside supplements, safe sun exposure is the best way to ensure that you’re getting the Vitamin D you need. While protecting the more sensitive skin on your face with a good sun block or a hat, you can expose your arms or legs to give yourself a Vitamin D boost. During the hot summer months, fair skinned women should start with just a few minutes exposure each day, while their skin builds up its natural protection. Foods such as oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals can also help you to boost your Vitamin D status.
Under the NHS Healthy Start scheme, pregnant women are entitled to free Vitamin D supplements. Alternatively you can take a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral formula that provides 10mcg of Vitamin D alongside the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals to support a healthy pregnancy.
References 1. University of Southampton. “Children’s body fat linked to Vitamin D insufficiency in mothers” ScienceDaily, 23 May 2012. Web. 27 May 2012.