Everyone wants strong, healthy children. Good cardiovascular health is the foundation of health. New research tells us that one key to ensuring that your children are heart-healthy later in life is for mom to eat well and exercise while pregnant.
Researchers at Kings College London wanted to know what affect a healthy diet and an exercise program would have on obese pregnant women and their babies and children. They wanted to measure the impact on the health of the women themselves as well as their children when they reached age 3. The study was supported by the British Heart Foundation and Tommy’s charity.
In a randomized controlled trial called the UPBEAT trial, a group of women were given a diet and exercise intervention, then compared to a control group which made no lifestyle changes at all.. The purpose was to help improve the physical activity and dietary habits of obese pregnant women in the UK.
The women in the intervention group saw positive results. They reported lower maternal energy loads during pregnancy, as well as lower glycemic levels, reduced saturated fatty acids intake and higher protein consumption both during pregnancy and three years after giving birth. There were no significant changes in body composition or self-reported physical activity levels, however.
The intervention group did report that they maintained their healthier diet even three years later.
Their children of the intervention group had lower resting heart rates than the children of the control group. They averaged -5 bpm compared to the control group children. Elevated resting heart rate in adults is considered a risk factor for hypertension and cardiovascular dysfunction.
According to lead author Kathryn Dalrymple of Kings College London, “This research shows that an 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 mothers diet, three years after the intervention finished. 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.”
Tommy’s Chair for Maternal and Fetal Health and senior author Lucilla Poston said “Obesity in pregnancy is a major problem because it can increase the risk of complications in pregnancy as well as affecting the longer-term health of the child. This study strengthens my resolve to highlight just how important it is that we give children a healthy start in life.”
Tommy’s Research and Policy Director, Lizzie D’Angelo, said: “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. 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.”
Tracy Parker, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Keeping physically active and maintaining a balanced diet are both important ways of keeping our hearts healthy. 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 both mother and child.”
The team intends to follow up with the mothers and children again between 8 and 10 years of age. It will allow them to see if the improvements “stick” throughout childhood.
Since so much of health and wellness is related to the habits we create and carry on, this is a good indicator that the habits of the mother may serve a benefit to her children. Those habits may even stick around for a lifetime. Wouldn’t that be good news?
Keep the faith and keep after it!
Journal Reference – Kathryn V. Dalrymple et al. Adiposity and cardiovascular outcomes in three‐year‐old children of participants in UPBEAT, an RCT of a complex intervention in pregnant women with obesity. Pediatric Obesity, 2020 DOI: 10.1111/ijpo.12725