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High trans-fat diet linked with overweight children: Study

By Nathan Gray , 01-Oct-2010

Mothers who consume a diet high in trans-fats may be doubling the risk that their infants will have high levels of body fat, according to new research.

The study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests mothers consuming over 4.5 grams of trans- fats per day while breastfeeding may be twice as likely to have children with high percentages of body fat. – According to the FDA, the average daily trans- fat consumption in the USA is 5.8 grams per day

“What this suggests is that the content of a mother’s diet in terms of trans fatty acid intake is a stronger predictor of maternal percent body fat than both pre-pregnancy weight and pregnancy weight gain,” wrote the researchers, led by Dr. Alex Anderson, assistant professor of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia, USA.

Dietary influence

Many leading international organizations, including the World Health Organization, encourage breastfeeding as the best method of infant feeding because of its associated health benefits.

However, the fatty acid composition of human milk has been reported to be influenced by the maternal diet, and previous research has suggested that maternal fatty acid intake during lactation may be a factor in the development of fat gain (adiposity) later in life.

The new study investigated the associations between infant feeding and body fat percentage of mothers and their infants, including the daily trans-fatty acid intake of mothers and the association with the body composition of mother and infant.

Trans fats are found naturally in small amounts in foods such as meat and dairy, but the vast majority are formed during the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil (PHVO) that converts the oil into semi-solids for a variety of food applications.

Trans fats are attractive for the food industry due to their extended shelf life and flavour stability, and have displaced natural solid fats and liquid oils in many areas of food processing.

But scientific reports that trans fatty acids raise serum levels of LDL-cholesterol, reduce levels of HDL-cholesterol, can promote inflammation can cause endothelial dysfunction, and influence other risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (CVD), has led to a well-publicized bans in places like New York City.

Higher body fat

The new study indicates that the detrimental health effects of trans fats may be passed from mother to child, with data showing that mothers consuming over 4.5g of trans- fats per day were over five times more likely to have a body fat greater than 30 per cent, and their infants were over two times more likely to have body fat over 24 per cent.

The authors stated that the finding were statistically significant, irrespective of the feeding method and independent to maternal total caloric intake.

Infants that were exclusively breast fed were seen to have a higher per cent body fat compared with infants fed a mixed diet of breast milk and formula.

Strong predictor

Dr. Anderson said that the data suggested trans- fats intake could have a more significant weight-gain effect on breastfeeding mothers than it does at other times in their lives.

“This observation calls for closer look at the trans- fatty acid content in the maternal diet, especially during the period of breastfeeding, to prevent the risk of excess adiposity and the associated chronic diseases later in life,” wrote the researchers.

They noted that more research is needed in order to fully understand the associations between maternal diet, breast milk composition, and their effects on maternal and infant body weight.

"It would help to be able to follow the child from when the mother was pregnant, through birth, and then adolescence, so that we can confirm what the type of infant feeding and maternal diet during breastfeeding have to do with the recent epidemic of childhood obesity," said Anderson.

The researchers concluded that their observations were “of great public health importance”, but warned that the findings should be interpreted “with great caution” due to the limitations in methodology.

Source: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2010.166
“Dietary trans fatty acid intake and maternal and infant adiposity”
Authors: A.K. Anderson, D.M. McDougald and M. Steiner-Asiedu

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