Pregnant women who don’t get enough vitamin D risk are more likely to have obese children, according to new research.
A study, published Wednesday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that children born to mothers who had low vitamin D status in pregnancy had more body fat when they were six years old.
Researchers found no evidence linking the increase in body fat during childhood to other factors like mother's weight gain in pregnancy or the level of physical activity in the children.
UK researchers measured the level of vitamin D in 977 pregnant women who were part of the Southampton Women's Survey at 34 weeks of gestation and assessed lean and fat body mass of their children at three weeks of birth, and at four and six years of age.
While lower vitamin D status associated with lower fat mass in infants at birth, researchers linked lower vitamin D intake in pregnancy to greater fat mass in children when they turned four and six years old during the follow-up period.
However, researchers found no link between vitamin D status and lean body mass in children at any of the ages studied.
"Lower maternal vitamin D status may be linked to programmed differences in offspring fat mass. The findings require replication but add to a growing evidence base for a role of vitamin D in the origins of adiposity," study authors wrote in the study.
Researchers said that the latest findings linking vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women to more body fat in children are important because of the increasing rates of childhood obesity.
"Although there is growing evidence that vitamin D status is linked to body fatness in children and adults, this research now suggests that the mother's status in pregnancy could be important too," Researcher Dr. Siân Robinson from the University of Southampton, said in a statement.
Robinson suggests that the increase in body fat could be explained by programmed effects on the fetus caused by a lack of maternal vitamin D that remains with the child and predisposes them to gain excess body fat in later childhood.
"Although further studies are needed, our findings add weight to current concerns about the prevalence of low vitamin D status among women of reproductive age," Robinson added.
Previous studies have also linked low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy to growth retardation and skeletal deformities in infants as well as a greater risk of pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, preterm birth, and infection.
Experts at the National Academy of Sciences recommend that pregnant women get at least 200 IUs or 5 micrograms if vitamin D a day if they’re not exposed to adequate sunlight. Vitamin D can also be found in fatty fish, egg, and cereal products.