Pregnancy is a time in life when many women throw caution to the wind, at least occasionally, and eat the foods they love – the foods they crave, but researchers now believe giving in to those cravings for junk food may have long-term effects on offspring. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the food choices a woman makes during pregnancy are extremely important to the mental and behavioral health of her children.

Researchers used data collected in a Norwegian mother and child cohort for the study. Questionnaires revealed food habits of pregnant women and children involved with the cohort. In all, information on 23,000 mothers was collected. Questionnaires were used as a reporting device for mental health and behavioral issues in children. The questionnaires were completed at 18 months, three years and five years. Mothers were also asked to complete a questionnaire about food intake during pregnancy. 

Mothers who reported eating refined cereals, salty foods and sweet drinks were more likely to also report behavioral problems like tantrums and aggression in children. If poor food choices continue and the child eats unhealthy foods during the first 12 months of life, additional mental health problems like anxiety and depression are more likely, according to study findings. 

Researchers warn that the shift to high-calorie, low-nutrition food intake is likely to blame for increased obesity and, based on study findings, at least some of the behavioral and mental health issues reported in children today. Pregnant women should follow a healthy pregnancy diet packed with highly nutritious foods, lean proteins and healthy fats while skipping processed foods that offers tons of nutritionally-deficient calories. 

Source: Felice N. Jacka, Ph.D., Eivind Ystrom, Ph.D., Anne Lise Brantsaeter, Ph.D., Evalill Karevold, Ph.D., Christine Roth, M.Sc., Margaretha Haugen, Ph.D., Helle Margrete Meltzer, Ph.D., Synnve Schjolberg, M.A., Michael Berk, Ph.D. Maternal and Early Postnatal Nutrition and Mental Health of Offspring by Age 5 Years: A Prospective Cohort Study. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2013.07.002.

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