Higher DHA/EPA Intakes during Pregnancy and Lower Childhood Obesity

April 6, 2011


Prenatal Fatty Acid Status and Child Adiposity at Age 3 y : results from a US Pregnancy Cohort
Donahue, S et al., Amer. J. Clin. Nutr., 93: 780-788 , 2011
Dept. of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA , USA


The purpose of the present study was to determine if higher intakes of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) plus EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid ) during pregnancy, as consumed primarily from fish, and a higher body status of DHA/EPA may be associated with the prevalence of child obesity and adiposity. For this research using 1250 mother-child pairings and assessments, dietary intakes of omega-3 fatty acids were assessed in the mothers at midpregnancy via food frequency questionnaires and database estimates of the fatty acid compositions of the foods as consumed. Maternal blood (plasma) and umbilical cord blood (plasma) were also taken to assess the omega-3 status by fatty acid analyses using gas-liquid chromatographic procedures. Child obesity was measured at 3 years of age and defined as a BMI (body mass index) value in the top 5 % (equal or greater than the 95 percentile) with comparisons then being made to those children with BMI values below the 85th percentile. The degree of ‘adiposity’ (related to fat found in adipose tissue) was assessed by measuring the sub-scapular ( under the scapula ) thickness and triceps skin-fold thickness using calipers.

The average maternal intake of (DHA plus EPA) midpregnancy was 150 mg /day – mostly from fish. Higher maternal intakes of (DHA plus EPA) were associated with a significantly lower prevalence (by 32 %) of childhood obesity and lower ‘adiposity’. Further, higher circulating levels of these omega-3 fatty acids in the umbilical cord blood was also associated with lower ‘adiposity, in their off-spring. The authors concluded that higher prenatal intakes of fish containing DHA/EPA appear to be associated with lower ‘adiposity’ in early childhood.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

The present study adds less obesity and adiposity to the growing list of improved health outcomes that may result for extended time periods in the offspring of mothers who consume more of the fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids as DHA (plus EPA) . Previous studies have suggested benefits which include better cognitive development and visual acuity, less allergic manifestations such as atopy, reduced behavioural difficulties , plus others. The average intakes of DHA plus EPA as reported in this study via indirect measures are moderately higher that what our lab has reported previously using direct assessments on pregnant Canadian women (J. Nutrition, 135: 206-211 (2005)). These latter intakes are all very much below those of Japanese women which are commonly up to 5-times higher. Public health strategies to increase DHA/EPA intakes in North American mothers appear warranted for the health of both mothers and their offspring. Communicating the levels of DHA/EPA in various fish/seafood sources and clearly indicating the specific types/species (vast majority) which do not present health hazards based on any contaminants that exist is important. Finally, alternative DHA/EPA sources from quality supplements , functional foods , and novel plant sources are available.

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