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Fruit and vegetables key to healthy baby weight

Wednesday October 6th, 2010

Women who eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables three months before conceiving reduce their chances of having a low weight baby, researchers say today.

A study by SCOPE (Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints), led by the University of Auckland, New Zealand, examined 3,513 women between November 2004 and August 2008 in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. None of the women had given birth before and all were pregnant with one child.

The findings, published in today’s BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found women who ate at least three portions of green leafy vegetables a day halved their chances of having undernourished or small babies. Similarly, those who consumed at least three portions of oily fish per week reduced their chances of having small babies by 60 per cent.

Conversely, women who ate very low amounts of fruit – less than one portion a week – increased their chances of having a small baby by 50 per cent.

It led researchers to believe that the nutrients found in fruits and vegetables may be protective to the pregnant mother and the developing foetus, although they concede that women who consume high amounts of such foods may also lead healthier lifestyles generally.

Researchers interviewed the women at 15 weeks and they underwent ultrasound scans at 20, when foetal growth measurements were taken and Doppler ultrasound studies on their umbilical and uterine arteries were performed.

Other data was examined, including the woman’s own birth weight, her gynaecological history, socio-economic status, smoking history and alcohol consumption and diet.

Professor Lesley McCowan head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Auckland, said: “These findings emphasise the influence of pre-pregnancy diet on the baby’s growth and are important as a number of the identified risk factors are amenable to public health interventions.”

Professor Philip Steer, BJOG editor-in-chief, said: “The importance of taking up and maintaining a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy has repeatedly been shown, however we live in an era of fast and convenience foods which are attractive but bad for our health if eaten too often and to the exclusion of healthier options. This study emphasises the importance of good diet and nutrition. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to resist the temptations of junk food.

“If more women can be persuaded to have a better diet during pregnancy, using the motivation of optimising their baby’s health, then as they are commonly in charge of the family diet, we could improve the health of the whole population. The take-home message is: Fewer take-aways, more fresh fruit and vegetables.”

* UK Food Standards Agency guidelines say pregnant women should not eat more than two portions of oily fish a week because of the risk of accumulating pollutants found in the sea.

• McCowan L, Roberts C, Dekker G, Taylor R, Chan E, Kenny L, Baker P, Moss-Morris R, Chappell L, North R. Risk factors for small-for-gestational-age infants by customised birthweight centiles: data from an international prospective cohort study. BJOG 2010; DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2010.02737.x.

Tags: Australia | Child Health | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Diet & Food | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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