Date: 17 April 2018
In a new series of papers published in The Lancet, researchers from the researchers from University of Southampton, University College London and other institutions, discuss how parents’ diets and health can have profound implications for the growth, development, and long-term health of their children before conception.
The series draws on existing evidence from around the world to redefine the preconception period, outlines how preconception risk factors affect the unborn baby and lifelong health risks, and proposes interventions to help improve preconception health. The authors present two new analyses of the diets and health of women of reproductive age (18-42 years old) in the UK and Australia.
Evidence suggests that smoking, high alcohol and caffeine intake, diet, obesity and malnutrition potentially cause genetic, cellular, metabolic and physiological changes during the development of the unborn baby, which have lasting consequences into adulthood and increase the child’s lifelong risk of cardiovascular, metabolic, immune, and neurological diseases. The authors also note that there could be more risk factors associated that have not yet been identified.
Professor Keith Godfrey, Director of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre who was involved in the study said:
“Better understanding of the underlying mechanisms – including epigenetic, cellular, metabolic, or physiological effects – and the exposures that drive them, will be important and help us to provide more detailed preconception health recommendations in the future.
“Research is now showing that our gametes and early embryos are sensitive to a variety of environmental conditions including poor parental diet. These effects can change the process of development, affecting growth, metabolism and health of offspring, so makes the case for both parents to have a healthy lifestyle well before conception and pregnancy.”
As the findings from the research reinforce the importance of improving everyone’s health from an early age as a way to avoid poor preconception health, the authors call for a joint focus, including better guidance and support for individuals planning pregnancy, and increased public health measures to reduce obesity and improve nutrition. They suggest that behaviour change interventions, supplementation and fortification could lead to preconception health improvements.
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