Polyunsaturated fatty acid status at birth, childhood growth, and cardiometabolic risk: a pooled analysis of the MEFAB and RHEA cohorts

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2019 Apr;73(4):566-576. doi: 10.1038/s41430-018-0175-1. Epub 2018 May 16.


Background/objectives: Polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) status during pregnancy has been suggested to influence offspring obesity and cardiometabolic health. We assessed whether prenatal PUFA exposure is associated with rapid infant growth, childhood BMI, and cardiometabolic profile.

Subjects/methods: In the Dutch MEFAB (n = 266) and Greek RHEA (n = 263) cohorts, we measured n-3 and n-6 PUFA concentrations in cord blood phospholipids, which reflect fetal exposure in late pregnancy. We defined rapid infant growth from birth to 6 months of age as an increase in weight z-score >0.67. We analyzed body mass index (BMI) as continuous and in categories of overweight/obesity at 4 and 6 years. We computed a cardiometabolic risk score at 6-7 years as the sum of waist circumference, non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and blood pressure z-scores. Associations of PUFAs with child health outcomes were assessed using generalized linear models for binary outcomes and linear regression models for continuous ones after adjusting for important covariates, and for the pooled estimates, a cohort indicator.

Results: In pooled analyses, we found no association of PUFA levels with rapid infant growth, childhood BMI (β per SD increase in the total n-3:n-6 PUFA ratio = -0.04 SD; 99% CI: -0.15, 0.06; P = 0.65 at 4 years, and -0.05 SD; 99% CI: -0.18, 0.08; P = 0.78 at 6 years), and overweight/obesity. We also found no associations for clustered cardiometabolic risk and its individual components. The results were similar across cohorts.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that PUFA concentrations at birth are not associated with later obesity development and cardiometabolic risk in childhood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / blood*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Greece
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Exposure
  • Mothers
  • Netherlands
  • Pediatric Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Risk
  • Waist Circumference / physiology


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated