How Junk Food during Pregnancy Affects Child's Behavior and Cognition
The link between a newborn’s neurodevelopment and the mother's diet during pregnancy grows more important as new scientific findings appear. It is now well-understood that prenatal dietary choices of mothers-to-be strongly affect the development of children on many levels.
The nutritional requirements during gestation are higher than normal, but they also become stricter. This automatically raises the difficulty of making the right choices concerning diet, but this is vital to safeguard a healthy physical condition and cognitive development of the child. Several studies in recent years have scrutinized the link between junk food during pregnancy and the offspring’s neuropsychiatry and behavior.
High consumption of sugars and fats during pregnancy has been found to correlate with the early onset of behavioral problems and ADHD in infants. British researchers analyzed data sets gathered by the 'Children of the 90s' study to evaluate how the mothers' prenatal diets affected the IGF2 gene in their children. This gene plays a role in the development of the hippocampus and cerebellum. Data from 83 infants with early-onset conduct problems and 81 with low levels of misconduct led scientists to discover that those with more behavioral problems had inherited a version of the IGF2 gene with more DNA methylation.
This group also displayed a higher incidence of ADHD symptoms. Dr. Edward Barker noted that more studies need to be done to determine how specific types of fat play a role in this association. A 2013 study of 23.000 Norwegian mothers also found a link between prenatal junk food and incidence of ADHD and conduct disorders, as well as anxiety and depression.
In another 2013 study at The University of Adelaide that involved rats, scientists discovered that a prenatal diet with a high level of junk food can influence the likelihood of the offspring engaging in unhealthy eating habits. They observed that high consumption of sugar and fats affects the development of opioid signaling pathways in the fetus. Consequently, the offspring will be less susceptible to the rewarding feelings triggered by the consumption of sugars and fats. The consumption of this type of junk food causes the release of endorphine-like substances.
These studies are in agreement with the findings of another research effort from 2014 - one of the first to investigate a direct link between prenatal diet and offspring cognition. Studying rats, Dr. Tamashiro and his team observed how the feeding habits of pregnant females influenced the behavioral and cognitive nature of their offspring. Indeed, the rats born to junk food mothers were found to be heavier, less active and display some cognitive deficits compared to those born to healthy eaters. Although two of these studies involved rats, the human demographics of obesity suggests that an extrapolation is almost warranted.