During pregnancy, it's hard not to eat anything!


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Many things change during pregnancy, often including, how we eat. A study conducted for more than 15 years by the University of Geneva (UNIGE), the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG) and the University College of London with more than 11,000 women and their children reveals that more than a third of them expressed a loss of control over their diet, repeatedly craving for junk food which is nutritionally poorly interesting. In addition to a few additional kilos, this eating behavior can have a long-term effect on their children's health, even doubling their risk of obesity. Involved? A possible in-utero disruption of metabolic mechanisms induced by this anarchic feeding. While there is a lot of nutritional advice, pregnant women know how difficult it is to follow it to the letter. But what are the long-term consequences?

In order to better understand eating disorders specific to pregnancy, Nadia Micali –Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and the new Head of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department at the HUG– along with her London colleagues, analyzed data from a large longitudinal study involving 11,132 women from Avon County, United Kingdom. "This very large cohort has proved to be a valuable source of information on the dietary behavior of these women during pregnancy, but also on their children, fifteen years after birth. Our study is the first to highlight a direct and very long-term link between apparently benign eating disorders in pregnancy and child health," says Nadia Micali, who led the study.

A question of quantity, but also of quality
Women completed a food intake frequency questionnaire at 32 weeks. Weight gain during pregnancy and birth weight were obtained from medical records. Of the 36.3% of women who reported feeling out of control of food, more than 5% suffered from this disorder particularly acutely. They gained on average 3.5 kg more during pregnancy than other women, and gave birth to heavier children. Fifteen years later, their children were twice as likely to be obese or overweight.

In addition, if the women concerned ingested more calories and in a disordered way, they also consumed foods of poor nutritional quality: cakes, salty snacks, chocolate and other junk food. They, therefore, had lower intakes of vitamins A, C, B1, B1, B6 and folic acid, micronutrients essential for the proper development of the fetus. " And that may be the key to the problem," says Nadia Micali.  "These vitamin deficiencies and unbalanced nutrition could indeed have an impact on the construction of the metabolism of the unborn baby, predisposing it before birth to the development of obesity." Researchers will continue their work to better understand the biological mechanisms at work.

For better management of eating disorders
All pregnant women may be affected, without social distinction, age, number of pregnancies or the presence of eating disorders before pregnancy. "While loss of control over eating during pregnancy is common, its harmful effects should not be overlooked," says Nadia Micali, who has conducted extensive research on eating disorders in pregnant women. She continues: "Indeed, a high gestational weight not only increases the risk of obesity in children, but also in mothers after pregnancy. Our results highlight the urgent need to better identify and better support mothers at risk, without falling into a guilt that could only be harmful and counterproductive."

Author : UNIGE, Dpt de Communication (FR)
Translation : Tania Secalin with the help of

June 4, 2018