Pregnancy Diet Affects Fat Levels in Babies

A new study reiterates the importance of a quality diet during pregnancy, especially when it comes to newborn size.

There is a surprising lack of data regarding the effects of maternal diet on newborn baby fat levels. This is understandable, since there are so many factors involved in the size and adiposity (level of body fat) in babies. Even when studies do obtain new data, there are so many confounding factors that the information is often virtually worthless.

In a recent study in the Nutrition Journal, researchers knew they would need to factor out the stuff that confuses the data on newborn fat levels. For example, the body size and level of affluence of the parents dramatically alter the size of the baby, so those and other factors were accounted for.

Study Design

The researchers were most interested in a specific type of body fat that is clinically known as central adiposity. This is exactly what it sounds like: fat deposits around the trunk, and mainly the fat that rests on the abdomen. This type of body fat is closely related to health problems such as metabolic syndrome, even in newborns.

The researchers looked closely at data that tracked 542 mother-child pairs. These pairs were separated into two groups. One group received dietary advice to focus on low glycemic carb sources while pregnant. The other group received standard care, which involved no diet advice.

The researchers accounted for all the known relevant details about the parents, such as job and diet information. After birth, the babies were measured for height, weight, limb circumference, body circumference, and adiposity.


The researchers learned about a host of factors that affected newborn measurements. Smoking was the most significant factor in newborn length measurements. Babies of smokers also had more fat.

We all know smoking is bad, but there were other significant factors as well – some that we can control, and some we can’t. For example, higher maternal age seemed to increase body fat levels. One changeable factor that had a big impact on the babies’ health was diet. For example, the higher the fat intake of the mother during gestation, the more fat the baby had.

Of course, fat is essential to a baby’s development, especially when it comes to the brain. The researchers noted this and reiterated that fat is not the enemy, although quality matters. In a similar vein, a focus on low glycemic index foods during pregnancy yielded babies with less body fat. So eating quality foods makes for healthier babies, since quality carbohydrates tend to have a low glycemic index.

While nothing particularly controversial or shocking resulted from this study, it provided information on a topic that is not well documented in science. It is great to know something we have a lot of control over, such as our diet, can be a tool to use to promote good neonatal health.


1. Mary Horan, et. al., “Maternal low glycaemic index diet, fat intake and postprandial glucose influences neonatal adiposity – secondary analysis from the ROLO study. Nutrition Journal 2014, 13:78.

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