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Nutrition and intergenerational life-long health

18th March 2019

Nutrition before and during pregnancy linked to intergenerational life-long health

The long-term health and wellbeing of up to three generations of New Zealanders and Australians can benefit from a nutritious and healthy diet before and during pregnancy, and in infancy. That is the key message of a new campaign aimed at new and expectant parents launched today on the Gold Coast.

According to the Early Life Nutrition Coalition, a key element to reducing the incidence of allergy, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in future generations is harnessing the protective qualities of a nutritious and healthy diet prior to conception (in both mothers and fathers) and throughout pregnancy and infancy.

Coalition spokesperson, Association Professor at Auckland University, Clare Wall says, “We know there is a clear link between poor nutrition during early life and a range of diseases in adulthood.”

“A focus on nutrition before, during and after pregnancy is known as Early Life Nutrition during the First 1,000 Days. A growing body of evidence has revealed a window of opportunity to shape the long-term health of future generations,” she adds.

“A mother, pregnant with a future daughter is technically also carrying her future grandchildren. Therefore, her diet during pregnancy isn’t just influencing the health of her unborn child, but future grandchildren.”

At the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand (PSANZ) Annual Conference today, the Coalition announced that education materials for new and expectant parents focussed on maternal weight, nutrition before, during and after pregnancy, breastfeeding, weaning and creating healthy eating habits are now available for free download from the PSANZ website.

Professor Wall adds that the Coalition would be harnessing the power of social media to raise awareness of Early Life Nutrition during the First 1,000 Days.

“New and expectant parents overwhelmingly turn to the internet for information. It is our aim to ensure they can access credible and reliable advice based on guidelines produced by the World Health Organisation and National Health and Medical Research Council,” she says.

In line with these guidelines, the Coalition recommends that pregnant women looking to give their unborn child the best nutritional start to life seek to:
· Follow a balanced diet which includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables;
· Avoid eating too many foods with high levels of saturated fat, sugar or salt;
· Maintain recommended dietary intake of iodine and omega-3 fatty acids by eating 2-3 servings of fatty fish (e.g. salmon) per week; and
· Talk to their doctor and ensuring they have the right levels of key vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, folate, iron, Vitamin D, zinc, and vitamin B12, and consider taking supplements to correct any deficiencies.

Professor Wall says that when it comes to nutrition during pregnancy, getting too little can be as bad as getting too much. “If pregnant women have a restricted calorie intake then their children may become much more efficient at storing energy (mostly fat) and also tend to over-eat because the hunger set-points have been altered during development.”

“Alternatively, a mother who consumes a diet high in saturated fats and sugar can unintentionally precondition her child – and ultimately her grandchild – to prefer these foods and ‘supercharge’ their fat cells to be able to store more fat more quickly.

“When it comes to pregnancy and health, we need to think of it as an investment in the future. More and more evidence is pointing to the role of environmental factors in determining health outcomes and the good news is that we can control many of those factors,” she says.

As the PSANZ conference is taking place, Early Life Nutrition Coalition members are providing training and advice to 140 paediatricians and other health care professionals visiting from the Philippines. At a series of training days throughout March, visiting clinicians are being taught about modifiable risk factors for childhood obesity in the first 1000 days.

According to Professor Wall, “Rates of overweight and obesity are increasing in children and adults in the Philippines and we are delighted to share Australian guidelines and best practice around the importance of early life nutrition on later health outcomes”.

The education and training events have been organised by MEDConcept Solutions Phils. Inc. Along with other leading researchers, ELN Coalition members will present up-to-date information on early life nutrition at events starting on 5 March, concluding on 28 March 2019.


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