Faith and medicine have been at war since the inception of medicine. According to a new study published in the American Journal of Human Biology, the observance of Ramadan in the Muslim faith has a negative effect on the fetus that could cause medical issues later in life.

The study involved more than 1,300 infants who were in utero during the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a one-month practice of fasting during daylight hours and eating only during darkness. Pregnant women of the Muslim faith are allowed to consume foods during the day, but faith and social acceptance lead most women to skip daily meals and follow the actions of family members. Previous studies have shown differences between infants born to mothers following Ramadan rules compared to control cases. Specifically, boys tended to be longer and girls were born earlier.

This study aimed to replicate those findings with a large-scale population consisting of about 680 boys and 640 girls. The births of infants included in the study took place between May 2011 and April 2012. Infants born to mothers who practiced daily fasting during Ramadan were smaller and thinner than their peers. The infants in the Ramadan group were about 93 grams lighter, on average – but infant weight was not the only factor involved. The placenta of these infants also weighed less and was smaller than comparable infants born to mothers who did not practice Ramadan.

Researchers noted that it did not matter when in the pregnancy (which trimester) Ramadan fell. In this study, about 1/3 of the study pool was in the first trimester, 1/3 in the second trimester and 1/3 in the third trimester. The same results were noted when Ramadan fell in the first, second and third trimester. There were also no differences with gender or if this was the first or subsequent pregnancy. Despite previous studies showing differences in infant length – this study could not replicate those findings.

Source: S.H. Alwasel, A. Harrath, J.S. Alijarallah, Z. Abotalib, C. Osmond, S.Y. Al Omar, I. Khaled, D.J.P. Barker. Intergenerational effects of in utero exposure to Ramadan in Tunisia. American Journal of Human Biology. 21 FEB 2013 DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.22374.