Nutrition during pregnancy and its effect on the child

At SSI we investigate the impact of pregnancy diet on the health of the mother and child. We focus on a variety of health outcomes including; premature birth, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes and in the child; asthma and allergy, bone health, type 1 diabetes and cancer.

Areas of Focus

For many years, SSI has investigated the importance of pregnancy diet in relation to pregnancy complications as well as the health and development of the child. We study the impact of individual dietary components such as fish oil, vitamin D and gluten, but also the importance of the overall quality of the diet by use of dietary pattern index. These can in turn be based on national dietary recommendations or inspired by known health concepts such as Mediterranean diet and anti-inflammatory foods.

Our primary data source is the large Danish National Birth Cohort. Approximately 100,000 pregnant women agreed in the years 1996-2003 to participate in blood sampling, interviews, register linkages and other follow-up studies of the women themselves and their children. Pregnancy diet was registered with a comprehensive questionnaire.

Today - two decades later - we are still harvesting the fruits from this data collection. Examples of our pioneering significant findings include; low intake of milk during pregnancy is a risk factor for fetal growth retardation; low plasma level of long chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy is a risk factor for early preterm birth; and high gluten intake in pregnancy is a risk factor for the child to develop type 1 diabetes. Of additional importance is that we have been able to reject certain much-discussed suspected risk factors. For example; intake of nuts during pregnancy is not a risk factor for the child to develop allergies; low D-vitamin status during pregnancy is not a risk factor for the child to develop type 1 diabetes. Several extensive projects are underway, including further analyzes of selected dietary components during pregnancy related to the child's risk of diabetes and the role of pregnancy diet in relation to the child's risk of cancer.

Research Projects

The impact of pregnancy diet on the child's later risk of type 1 diabetes

The study investigates the relationship between selected dietary exposures during pregnancy and the child's later risk of type 1 diabetes. Dietary components that probably affect the maternal or fetal immune system and inflammatory state constitute a new source of exposure of interest in diabetes research. This is because type 1 diabetes is driven by an adverse autoimmune response to the body's own beta cells. Thus, factors that in early life regulate the immune system's development and function may play a role in the pathogenesis.

Prenatal nutrition and childhood cancer

The study investigates the relationship between pregnancy diet and the child's later risk of cancer including leukemia. Since childhood cancer is rare, we want to combine the Danish National Birth Cohort with the corresponding major national study in Norway: the MoBa cohort. A number of case-control studies have suggested associations between pregnancy diet and childhood cancer, but such retrospective investigations may be severely affected by recall bias and other problems. By combining the big birth cohorts, we in this Danish-Norwegian collaboration may be the first to explore these associations in a prospective design.

Sjurdur Frodi Olsen

Contact

Sjurdur Frodi Olsen , Centre Leader , Department of Epidemiology Research
T. +45 32683955 @. sfo@ssi.dk View profile