A mother’s diet may relate to the diet and body composition of their children


In a recent study published in Plus one magazine, researchers identified the relationship between the nutritional traits of mothers and their babies and the children’s body composition.

Study: Maternal diet quality and its association with body composition and diet quality of preschool children: a longitudinal study.  Image credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Stady: Maternal diet quality and association with body composition and diet quality of preschool children: a longitudinal study. Image credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock


Mothers play a crucial role in the eating habits of their children, as the mother’s habits and lifestyles influence their diet patterns. Mothers buy, cook, and distribute food to their offspring, which can greatly influence their eating habits, body composition, and growth.

The quality and quantity of food eaten during childhood affects nutritional status and the emergence of nutritional deficiencies and disorders.

Consumption of unhealthy food can lead to adverse health consequences such as chronic, non-communicable disorders and obesity in children. Individuals should be encouraged to eat healthy foods from infancy as children develop lifelong food preferences and habits.

about studying

In the current prospective longitudinal study, the researchers investigated whether the quality of the mothers’ diet affected the diet quality of their children. In addition, the effect of the mother’s diet on the body composition of the children was investigated.

The study included mother and child pairs, among which socioeconomic data, nutritional status, and diet quality were evaluated. The team interviewed individuals who participated in the Phase I and II Impact of Perinatal Environmental Changes on Newborn Health in the First Six Months of Life trials (IVAPSA-I, II) to obtain data for the current analysis.

IVAPSA-I was performed between 2010 and 2019 when the children were 1.0 to 3.0 months old. The Phase II trial (IVAPSA-II) was conducted between 2019 and 2017, including preschool children between the ages of 3.0 and 6.0 years. Mothers filled out food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) and sociodemographic questionnaires.

Diet quality was assessed according to food frequency and regularity, based on the Brazil Food Pyramid (for food groups) and the NOVA classification (for extent of food processing, as unprocessed, minimally processed, processed, or ultra-processed). Breastfeeding and formula use were assessed using retrieval of the one-day diet and maternal anamnesis.

Nutritional status was determined using maternal body mass index (BMI) values ​​and children’s Z-scores, using World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

Subscapular skin fold (SSF) and tricuspid skin fold (TSF) thicknesses were measured to quantify obesity in children. Linear regression modeling was performed for the analysis.

IVAPSA-I (2011-2016) sample of mothers who delivered live two to three days before registration in three hospitals in the southern regions of Brazil.

The sample population included: smokers, diabetic women, hypertensive women, and those who showed intrauterine growth restriction. [IUGRs, including small for gestational age (SGA) newborns].

Twins, premature deliveries, infants born with congenital anomalies or infectious diseases, and those requiring early hospitalization were excluded from the IVAPSA trials. In addition, mother-child pairs with missing data on diet quality were removed from the current study.


In IVAPSA I, 223 (56% of the initially sampled population) mother-child pairs were analysed, of which 128 (32.0%) were included in IVAPSA II. However, only 83 binary were considered for the current analysis.

There were no statistically significant differences between the pairs with regard to maternal parameters such as age, monthly income, body mass index, education level, marital status, and number of offspring.

In addition, pediatric parameters such as age, preschool attendance, body mass index, duration of breastfeeding, and use of infant formula were similar between the included pairs.

The average maternal age was 33; 58 women (70%) were overweight, and 56 women (68%) were married or living with their partners. Most of the women had two children and studied for 11 years. The majority of children were female (59.0%, 49 children), breastfed for more than 1.0 years (52%, 43 children), and had not practiced using formula (55%, 46 children).

Among the children, 14 (17%) and 11 (13%) were overweight or obese, respectively. Among the children, 20 (24.0%) and 28 (35.0%) were obese based on TSF and SSF values, respectively.

Mothers’ frequent intake of unprocessed foods and minimally processed foods increased their consumption among children and decreased SSF thickness. Conversely, the more mothers consumed ultra-processed foods, the thicker the children’s TSF.

Maternal intake by food groups and food processing showed significant associations with monthly income and education level. High school educated mothers ate healthy foods such as vegetables and other greens, milk and dairy products, limiting the intake of fatty and oily foods.

Moreover, children of mothers with secondary education consumed more beans, oilseeds, tea and coffee.

Younger children ate more oilseeds, beans, and slightly or less processed food. Slightly processed and unprocessed food intake was greater among children born to mothers earning ≥3.0 times the minimum wage (MW).

By contrast, intake of ultra-processed foods was higher among households with incomes between 1.0 and 3.0 MW. Children with screen time ≥4.0 hours consumed more processed foods than children with screen time less than 2.0 hours.


Based on the results of the study, the quality of the mother’s diet affected their children’s food choices and body structure. Obesity predisposed by SSF and TSF among children has been associated with increased consumption of ultra-processed food items by their mothers.

In contrast, greater maternal intake of processed or unprocessed foods was associated with greater intake of corresponding foods among children and lower SSF values.

The findings highlight the multifaceted influence of family environments on children’s dietary habits.


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