Adopting healthy habits during pregnancy could also make children healthier, study finds

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Researchers say eating healthier during pregnancy could have lasting benefits

Researchers have previously found that mothers’ food and exercise habits can affect their children’s health, and now a new study is expanding on that work.

According to a new study conducted by researchers from King’s College London, kids are likely to be healthier when their mothers follow healthy diets and engage in physical activity during pregnancy. This was especially true for women struggling with obesity while pregnant. 

“Pregnancy can be higher risk for women who are obese, but trying to lose lots of weight while pregnant is not advised, so our research focuses on finding new ways to make pregnancy safer for these families,” said researcher Lizzie D’Angelo. “It’s very reassuring to see that our researchers have been able to improve mothers’ diets and children’s heart health in the long term, helping to give these babies the best start in life.” 

Making healthier choices during pregnancy

The researchers analyzed data from the U.K. Pregnancies Better Eating and Activity Trial (UPBEAT) to understand how diet and exercise can improve health outcomes for pregnant women and their kids. The women were divided into two groups to test the efficacy of diet and exercise: one group carried on with their diet and exercise routine as usual while the other group followed a prescribed exercise regimen and a healthy diet during their pregnancies. 

The researchers evaluated participants’ children at three years old and noted better cardiovascular health outcomes for those born to mothers who had improved their diet and exercise habits during pregnancy. Resting heart rate, which can be an indicator of underlying conditions, was better for kids when their mothers had healthier pregnancies. 

“This research shows that a lifestyle intervention in pregnant women, which focused on improving diet and increasing physical activity, is associated with improved cardiovascular function in the child at three-years of age and a sustained improvement in the mother's diet, three years after the intervention finished” said researcher Kathryn Dalrymple. “These findings are very exciting as they add to the evidence that pregnancy is a window of opportunity to promote positive health and lifestyle changes which benefit the mother and her child.”  

The kids weren’t the only ones who benefitted from these diet and exercise changes. The researchers noted that being healthy during pregnancy increased the likelihood that women kept up their healthy eating habits after childbirth. 

“Keeping physically active and maintaining a balanced diet are both important ways of keeping our hearts healthy,” said researcher Tracy Parker. “This research shows that for pregnant women, the benefits don’t end there. A healthy diet before, during, and after pregnancy can have positive long-term health benefits for mother and child.” 

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