There have been many stories over the last month highlighting the fundamental importance of healthy diet for mums-to-be. New research in this field adds to existing evidence that mental health and well being – not just physical health – rely on a mother’s diet, before, during and after conception.
Obesity has been a major theme in many recent stories. One study links maternal obesity with neurocognitive problems in premature babies, while another links it with behavioral problems in male offspring. Mothers’ consumption of sugary soft drinks, meantime, is linked not just to overweight mothers, but obesity in their children too.
Other studies link sugar intake during pregnancy with children’s allergies, including asthma. Adverse environmental conditions in general during gestation are associated with poor health for the child in later life. These environmental factors can act at a genetic level, with consequences that can then be handed on down the generations.
A healthy maternal diet promotes a healthy gut bacteria in infants, which has been found to result in in smarter toddlers. Optimum brain development is dependent on the right fats, vitamins and minerals. Iodine, for example, is one of many essentials in a mother’s diet, aiding child brain development.
Women’s health – a human rights issue
In an ideal world, the perfect maternal diet hinted at in all this research is easily achievable. But this is not an ideal world, and poverty-related malnutrition (rather than the west’s damning paradox of wealth-related malnutrition) remains a blight on the lives of millions of mothers-to-be and their unborn children.
As stated in a recent World Health Organisation publication highlighting the plight of women in sub-Saharan Africa, “investing in women’s health is [not] primarily utilitarian […], women’s health is above all a human rights issue and should be supported and promoted as such”.
As we keep saying, the health of future generations relies, as it always has, on the health of mothers.
(With thanks to our friends at Food and Behaviour Research for the story links).