Children born to females with lower vitamin D levels during pregnancy are more likely to have increased body fat in childhood, say researchers at the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU) at the University of Southampton.
This study, which was first published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition — shows that vitamin D levels less than 50 nmol/L, can be linked to increased fat mass in children between the ages of 4 and 6.
What the study found
Interestingly, the mothers own body mass index did not sway the study results. Instead, children observed in the study showed an eight percent reduction in fat – if they were born to mothers with vitamin D levels of 50-75 nmol/L.
Researchers found that, the lack of vitamin D during pregnancy, can lead to the child gaining excess fat by the time they were six years old.
The researchers observed 977 pregnant women with the body composition of their children. The women were part of the Southampton Women’s Survey – one of the largest women’s surveys in the UK.
This study supports past findings that show that adequate stores of vitamin D, in pregnant mothers lead to healthier babies with less respiratory problems and allergies.
“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,” says Dr Siân Robinson, Principal Research Fellow, at the University, who led the study.
“An interpretation of our data is that there could be programmed effects on the fetus arising from a lack of maternal vitamin D that remain with the baby and predispose him or her 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.
According to Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director of the MRC LEU, “the observations that maternal vitamin D insufficiency might be associated with reduced size at birth, but accelerated gain in body fat during early childhood, add to the considerable amount of evidence suggesting that vitamin D status during pregnancy may have critical effects on the later health of offspring.”
Pregnant women are advised to have their vitamin D levels checked regularly and should take a vitamin D supplement to maintain levels of between 75 and 100 nmol/L.
The importance of Vitamin D in pregnancy
Pregnant women need vitamin D to maintain adequate levels of calcium and phosphorous, which help with the development of baby’s bones and teeth.
A vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can cause growth retardation and skeletal deformities. It may also have an impact on birth weight. A shortage of vitamin can put your baby at risk for rickets.
Researchers believe that vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can affect bone development and immune function from birth right through to adulthood. Vitamin D deficiency can also be linked to a greater risk of pregnancy complications and the need for a c-section.