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Parents, your diet and fitness before conception affect child’s health

Smoking, high alcohol and caffeine intake, diet, obesity and malnutrition in either or both parents, potentially increases a child’s lifelong risk of heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, immune and neurological diseases.

While women usually take great care of their health and nutrition intake during pregnancy, new research has found that doing so isn’t enough. To ensure your kid turns out to be healthy in the long run, it’s crucial for parents to be fit prior to pregnancy as well. And not just the mothers, even the father’s lifestyle habits can affect children.

A series of studies published in the journal Lancet found that a number of factors can have “profound implications” on the growth, development and long-term health of their children before their conception. Namely, smoking, drinking alcohol, parents’ health including obesity and poor diet. The findings showed that smoking, high alcohol and caffeine intake, diet, obesity and malnutrition in either or both parents, potentially increases a child’s lifelong risk of heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, immune and neurological diseases.

Past research has well established the negative effect a to-be mother’s obesity can have on her child. For instance, earlier this month, a team from the University of Michigan found that being overweight or obese during pregnancy raises cerebral palsy risk in kids. Moreover, mother’s obesity can up risk for major birth defects.

The new research emphasises a need for greater awareness of preconception health and improved guidance, with greater focus on diet and nutrition to improve the health of future generations. “Research is now showing that our gametes and early embryos are sensitive to a variety of environmental conditions including poor parental diet. These effects can change the process of development, affecting growth, metabolism and health of offspring, so makes the case for both parents to have a healthy lifestyle well before conception and pregnancy.” said Tom Fleming, professor at the University of Southampton.

Maternal obesity contributes to increased levels of inflammation and hormones, which can directly alter the development of the egg and embryo. This, in turn, boosts the odds of chronic disease later in life. Men’s obesity plays a role too. It can lead to poor sperm quality, quantity and motility associated with many of the same conditions.

“The preconception period is a critical time when parental health — including weight, metabolism and diet — can influence the risk of future chronic disease in children, and we must now re-examine public health policy to help reduce this risk,” said Judith Stephenson, professor from the University College of London. “While the current focus on risk factors such as smoking and excess alcohol intake is important, we also need new drives to prepare nutritionally for pregnancy in both parents,” Stephenson added.

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