A new study conducted at the University of Turku has revealed that maternal gestational diabetes can negatively impact the neurological development of 2-year-old children. Conversely, the study found that a mother’s healthy and balanced diet supports the child’s neurological development.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Turku and Turku University Hospital in Finland has highlighted the crucial role a mother’s health and lifestyle play in regulating her child’s neurological development. The study specifically examined the impact of maternal gestational diabetes, obesity and diet during pregnancy on the neurological development of 2-year-old children.
The research project investigated the development of children’s cognitive, language and motor skills. Maternal adiposity was determined by air displacement plethysmography and gestational diabetes with an oral glucose tolerance test. Dietary intake during pregnancy was assessed with dietary quality and fish consumption questionnaires.
“On average, the neurological development of children in our data was within the normal range. Our study results showed that 2-year-old children whose mothers had developed gestational diabetes had worse language skills than children whose mothers had not developed gestational diabetes,” says doctoral researcher Lotta Saros from the Institute of Biomedicine at the University of Turku.
In addition, the study found that a higher maternal body fat percentage was associated with weaker cognitive, language and motor skills in children.
“Our observation is unique, as previous studies have not examined the association between maternal body composition and infant neurodevelopment,” notes Saros.
Gestational diabetes and obesity, especially high body fat mass, adversely affect the mother’s metabolism and increase inflammation in the body. In fact, these are the likely mechanisms by which the detrimental factors affect the neurological development of the child.
The mother’s diet during pregnancy can affect a child’s neurological development
The study also revealed that better nutritional quality of the mother’s diet was associated with better child language development. A similar finding was also discovered between maternal fish consumption and child neurological development.
The results lead to the same conclusion that a high-quality diet contains unsaturated fatty acids, which are found in fish, for example. Soft, unsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, promote the neurological development of children.
“A healthy, comprehensive diet during pregnancy can be particularly beneficial for the neurological development of the children whose mothers are at risk for gestational diabetes due to overweight or obesity,” says Professor Kirsi Laitinen, who heads the Early Nutrition and Health research group. from the University of Turku who conducted the study.
Reference: “Maternal obesity, gestational diabetes mellitus and nutrition in relation to neurodevelopment of 2-year-old children” By Lotta Saros, Annika Lind, Sirkku Setänen, Kristiina Tertti, Ella Koivuniemi, Annarilla Ahtola, Leena Haataja, Nitin Shivappa, James R. Hébert , Tero Vahlberg and Kirsi Laitinen, January 3, 2023, Pediatric research.