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Research shows women's diets can affect the size of their grandchildren

February 21st 2014 / Hanna Ibraheem

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New research has suggested that what we eat can affect our future grandchildren, writes Hanna Ibraheem

Next time you indulge in a guilty treat, spare a thought for your future grandchildren. A study of 3,000 women in the Philippines has concluded that a woman's diet may affect the birth size of her daughter’s children.

Researchers found that a woman’s nutrition can influence her daughter’s physiology, leading to a knock-on effect to the size of her grandchildren at birth. So, contrary to popular belief, you are in fact what your grandmother eats. Yikes.

Previous studies have proven that a mother’s nutrition during her development can affect her own children; her diet, whether it is healthy or poor, can alter her DNA, and those changes are passed on. This is the first investigation, however, to suggest that a woman can also affect a second generation, making it quite significant.

The study, which started in the 1980s, interestingly suggests that a mother’s nutrition while she was in the womb herself and during her childhood has a greater impact than what she eats during pregnancy and throughout her adult life.

“In general, measures of nutrition that were obtained when the mother was young or in utero herself were much stronger predictors of her baby’s birth weight than are her nutrition and diet during adulthood,” Northwestern University’s Dr Christopher Kuzawa told the American Association for the Advance of Science.

He added: “Quite a bit of converging evidence suggests that the quantity of calories you consume during pregnancy does not have a big effect on the baby. It is more about pre-pregnancy nutrition, and nutrition during early development.”

Dr Kuzawa explained that the nutrition that a female foetus experiences while in the womb has an “intergenerational effect”, shaping “in utero growth for her future offspring”.

Warning that these new findings shouldn’t worry expecting mothers, Dr Kuzara said women should slightly adjust their dietary choices and stressed that the results were still preliminary and largely relied on mothers between the ages of 21 and 22 remembering their own birthweights and dietary intakes as children. For many, remembering what we ate this morning, let alone the odd 18 years ago, is an impossible task so the findings certainly need taking with a pinch of salt.

He said: “Within the bounds of a healthy balanced diet, the overall quantity of food that a mother eats is unlikely to have large effects on her baby’s birth weight.”

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