Helping women to eat healthily before and during pregnancy may reduce the risk of obesity for their children, the authors of a study of nearly 3,000 sets of mothers and children have said.
Researchers from the University of Southampton looked at the diets of mothers before conception and during pregnancy and then looked at the weight of their children eight or nine years later.
They found children were more likely to be obese if their mother had a poor diet before and during pregnancy.
The research, published in the International Journal of Obesity, analysed data on the diets of 2,963 sets of mothers and children who were part of the UK Southampton Women's Survey - a long-running study that tracks the health of mothers and their children.
Mothers who were younger, had fewer academic qualifications, smoked and had a higher body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy were more likely to have poorer diets, as were their children.
When the children were eight or nine, the researchers assessed the amount of fat tissue in their bodies using a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan.
They also calculated the child's BMI, adjusting this to account for their age and sex.
The results showed that if a mother-child pair was in what researchers termed a lower diet quality group, this was associated with the child having a higher DXA percentage body fat and BMI at age eight or nine.
There was a 14 per cent difference in the percentage of body fat between those with the poorest and best diets, the research found.
The researchers said the findings suggest that mothers who eat a poor diet are likely to have children who do the same and are potentially at greater risk of becoming overweight or obese over their lifetime.
Dr Sarah Crozier, associate professor of statistical epidemiology and one of the study authors, said: "Childhood obesity is a significant and growing issue in the UK, causing long-lasting health problems that extend well into adulthood.
"This research shows the importance of intervening at the earliest possible stage in a child's life, in pregnancy or even before conception, to enable us to tackle it."
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