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A healthy pre-conception diet is the key to optimum child health, says study

Posted:  Monday, October 27, 2014

Everyone knows how important diet is during pregnancy, for the health of both mother and child. A recent editorial has indicated that in order to ensure optimum child health, one needs to start eating healthy even earlier than pregnancy, that is, at the preconception stage.

The editorial is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, alongside the largest meta-analysis and systematic review of international research trials concerning dietary interventions in expectant mothers from 1978 to 2011.

The researchers exhaustively screened more than 2,300 published articles and included the ones that looked at the effect of dietary counselling and/or food interventions on neonatal and infant health. Despite the sheer abundance of data, the researchers found that there was no universal consensus on what constitutes an optimal diet for women before, during, and after pregnancy.

Research shows that small birth weight babies are more likely to be admitted to neonatal intensive care and that maternal nutritional status can have a lasting impact on infant health and wellbeing. The researchers stress that much more research is clearly needed for pre-conception diets through the various stages of pregnancy and lactation.

Professor Keith Godfrey, from the University of Southampton and one of the editorial authors, comments, "This review is the largest to date and does provide some clues to help improve the health of the next generation, but it also highlights the challenges in providing sound advice for pregnant mothers. While it is clear that diet in pregnancy can affect immediate outcomes, far less is known about diet around the time of conception or the consequences for the child's health in later life. Getting maternal nutrition right may require ensuring that all women have access to adequate diets before conception, not just during pregnancy."

It is known that diet in pregnancy can affect immediate outcomes. However, added research is warranted to understand the effect of diet around the time of conception. Knowing these details would enable healthcare professionals determine the most crucial phases when dietary intervention can be helpful, be it in the pre-conception phase or during pregnancy.

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