Maternal diet may be associated with the diet and body composition of their children

In a recent study published in the PLOS ONE Journal, researchers determined the association between the dietary qualities of mothers and their children and the body constitution of children.

Study: Maternal diet quality and associations with body composition and diet quality of preschool children: A longitudinal study. Image Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock


Mothers have a crucial role in their children's eating habits since maternal habits and lifestyles influence their dietary patterns. Mothers procure, cook, and distribute food to their progeny, which can significantly impact their dietary habits, body constitution, and growth.

The quality and quantity of food intake during childhood influence the nutritional status and the onset of nutritional deficiencies and disorders.

Unhealthy food consumption can lead to adverse health consequences such as chronic and non-communicable disorders and pediatric adiposity. Individuals must be encouraged to consume healthy foods from childhood as children develop lifelong dietary preferences and habits.

About the study

In the present prospective longitudinal study, researchers investigated whether the diet quality of mothers impacted that of their children. In addition, the effect of maternal diet on the body constitution of children was investigated.

The study included mother-child dyads, among whom socioeconomic data, nutritional status, and diet quality were assessed. The team interviewed individuals who participated in the first and second phases of the Impact of Perinatal Environment Variations on the Health of the Newborn in the First Six Months of Life Trials (IVAPSA-I, II) to obtain data for the present analysis.

IVAPSA-I was conducted between 2010 and 2019 when infants were aged 1.0 to 3.0 months. The second phase of the trial (IVAPSA-II) was conducted between 2019 and 2017, including preschool children aged 3.0 to 6.0 years. The mothers filled out food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) and sociodemographic questionnaires.

Dietary quality was evaluated according to regular food frequency and intake, based on the food pyramid of Brazil (for food groups) and the NOVA classification (for the extent of food processing, as unprocessed or minimally processed, processed, or ultra-processed). Breastfeeding and formula use were assessed using one-day diet recalls and maternal anamnesis.

Nutritional status was determined using body mass index (BMI) values for mothers and z-scores for children, using World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

The thickness of the subscapular skinfold (SSF) and tricipital skinfold (TSF) were measured to determine pediatric obesity. Linear regression modeling was performed for the analysis.

IVAPSA-I (2011–2016) sampled mothers with live births two to three days before enrollment across three hospitals in Brazil's southern regions.

The sample population included the following: smokers, diabetic women, hypertensive women, and those demonstrating intrauterine growth restrictions [IUGRs, including small for gestational age (SGA) newborns].

Twins, preterm births, infants born with congenital anomalies or infectious diseases, and those requiring early hospital admission were excluded from the IVAPSA trials. In addition, mother-child dyads with missing data on dietary quality were removed from the present study.


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

There were no significant differences among dyads concerning maternal parameters such as age, monthly income, BMI, level of education, marital status, and progeny count.

In addition, pediatric parameters such as age, preschool attendance, BMI, duration of breastfeeding, and infant formula usage were similar among included dyads.

The mean maternal age was 33; 58 women (70%) were overweight, and 56 women (68%) were married or lived with their partners. Most women had two children and had studied for 11 years. The majority of children were female (59.0%, 49 children), breastfed for >1.0 years (52%, 43 children), and did not practice formula usage (55%, 46 children).

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

More frequent maternal intake of unprocessed and minimally processed foods increased their consumption among children and reduced their SSF thickness. On the contrary, the higher the maternal consumption of ultra-processed foods, the higher the children's TSF thickness.

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

Further, children of mothers with high school-level education consumed more beans, oilseeds, tea, and coffee.

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

Contrastingly, the intake of ultra-processed food items was higher among households with 1.0 to 3.0 MW income. Children for whom screen time was ≥4.0 hours consumed processed foods more than those with <2.0 hours of screen time.


Based on the study findings, maternal dietary quality impacted their children's dietary choices and body constitution. Excess obesity by SSF and TSF among children was associated with their mothers' greater consumption of ultra-processed food items.

In contrast, greater maternal intake of minimally processed or unprocessed foods was linked to greater intake of the corresponding foods among children and lower SSF values.

The findings highlight the multifaceted impact of family environments on children's dietary habits.

Journal reference:
  • de Bona Coradi, F. et al. (2023) "Maternal diet quality and associations with body composition and diet quality of preschool children: A longitudinal study", PLOS ONE, 18(5), p. e0284575. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0284575.

Posted in: Child Health News | Medical Science News | Medical Research News | Medical Condition News | Women's Health News

Tags: Body Mass Index, Breastfeeding, Children, Chronic, Coffee, Diet, Education, Food, Frequency, Hospital, Infectious Diseases, Newborn, Obesity, Tea, Twins, Vegetables

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Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Dr. based clinical-radiological diagnosis and management of oral lesions and conditions and associated maxillofacial disorders.

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