Refined Grains in Pregnancy Diets and Childhood Obesity

If you’re making the wrong food choices, in this case, refined grains, your child may suffer for it.

Many studies in the past have linked a poor pregnancy diet to a higher risk of childhood obesity. For example, a June 2017 study found that drinking diet soda during pregnancy increased obesity rates significantly.

According to new research from the National Institutes of Health, there’s another food to add to the threat list: refined grains.

But for pregnant women, it is more than just smart—it’s important for the sake of your child.

The study examined the effects of a diet high in refined grains on pregnant women. More specifically, women with gestational diabetes, a form of temporary diabetes that affects roughly 5% of pregnant women in the United States. Using data from more than 900 mother-children pairs, the researchers analyzed the mothers’ diets and compared them to the prevalence of obesity among their children.

Women who had gestational diabetes and followed a diet high in refined grains (over 156 grams of refined grains per day) doubled their child’s obesity risk, compared to women with gestational diabetes but who ate very little refined grains (no more than 37 grams per day). By the age of seven, the children born to mothers who ate the most refined grains had a significantly higher risk of obesity than the children born to mothers who ate less.

Even when the researchers adjusted their findings for other potential obesity factors—consumption of fruits and veggies, sugar/sweets intake, physical activity levels—refined grains were still the greatest influencing factor affecting childhood obesity rates.

The findings highlight pregnancy as a potential window of susceptibility. For high-risk populations, in this case, gestational diabetes, the risk of obesity in the offspring was high. Data with longer follow-up is going to be needed.


1. Yeyi Zhu, Sjurdur F Olsen, Pauline Mendola, Thorhallur I Halldorsson, Edwina H Yeung, Charlotta Granström, Anne A Bjerregaard, Jing Wu, Shristi Rawal, Jorge E Chavarro, Frank B Hu, Cuilin Zhang. “Maternal dietary intakes of refined grains during pregnancy and growth through the first 7 y of life among children born to women with gestational diabetes.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2017; ajcn136291 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.116.136291.