Maternal dietary intake during pregnancy and offspring body composition: The Healthy Start Study

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2016 Nov;215(5):609.e1-609.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2016.06.035. Epub 2016 Jun 28.


Background: Consistent evidence of an influence of maternal dietary intake during pregnancy on infant body size and composition in human populations is lacking, despite robust evidence in animal models.

Objective: We sought to evaluate the influence of maternal macronutrient intake and balance during pregnancy on neonatal body size and composition, including fat mass and fat-free mass.

Study design: The analysis was conducted among 1040 mother-offspring pairs enrolled in the prospective prebirth observational cohort: the Healthy Start Study. Diet during pregnancy was collected using repeated 24-hour dietary recalls (up to 8). Direct measures of body composition were obtained using air displacement plethysmography. The National Cancer Institute measurement error model was used to estimate usual dietary intake during pregnancy. Multivariable partition (nonisocaloric) and nutrient density (isocaloric) linear regression models were used to test the associations between maternal dietary intake and neonatal body composition.

Results: The median macronutrient composition during pregnancy was 32.2% from fat, 15.0% from protein, and 47.8% from carbohydrates. In the partition multivariate regression model, individual macronutrient intake values were not associated with birthweight or fat-free mass, but were associated with fat mass. Respectively, 418 kJ increases in total fat, saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and total carbohydrates were associated with 4.2-g (P = .03), 11.1-g (P = .003), 5.9-g (P = .04), and 2.9-g (P = .02) increases in neonatal fat mass, independent of prepregnancy body mass index. In the nutrient density multivariate regression model, macronutrient balance was not associated with fat mass, fat-free mass, or birthweight after adjustment for prepregnancy body mass index.

Conclusion: Neonatal adiposity, but not birthweight, is independently associated with increased maternal intake of total fat, saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and total carbohydrates, but not protein, suggesting that most forms of increased caloric intake contribute to fetal fat accretion.

Keywords: birthweight; dietary intake; fetal growth; fetal programming; neonatal body composition; nutrition during pregnancy; saturated fat.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight
  • Body Composition*
  • Diet Surveys
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates*
  • Dietary Fats*
  • Dietary Proteins*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Linear Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Prenatal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Prospective Studies


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins