High Fast Food Intake During Pregnancy Could Pave Way for Childhood Weight Gain

Consuming a diet high in fast food during pregnancy could be tied to weight gain in young children, according to new research presented at the 2019 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.1

Researchers arrived at this conclusion after conducting a study of 1257 mother-child pairs. Specifically, the researchers examined maternal dietary patterns during the second trimester of pregnancy and calculated scores based on consumption of a fast food pattern or processed food pattern. They also assessed children’s body mass index z-score trajectories from birth to age 4 that had been identified in a prior study, as well as associations between maternal dietary patterns and child growth outcomes.

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Children of mothers who had consumed a fast food dietary pattern, which included a higher intake of fried chicken and fish, fruit juices, mayonnaise, and sugar-sweetened beverages, were found to have an increased risk of being in the rising-high-BMI trajectory and overweight or obese at age 4 years, following adjustment for confounding factors. This risk was found to be significant among mothers in the highest quartile of the fast food pattern score compared with those in the lowest quartile (odds ratio [OR] 1.85 for rising-high-BMI trajectory, 1.53 for overweight/obese at age 4).

“These findings are very important,” said lead study author, Zunsong Hu, PhD, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, in a press release.2 “Animal studies have shown that prenatal ’junk food’ intake leads to a greater preference for fatty, sugary and salty foods and increased risk for obesity in offspring. Our study provides evidence for this association for the first time in a US population including both whites and blacks. Future studies are still needed to validate these findings,” Dr Hu added.2

“Our findings suggest that pregnant women should eat fried food and sugar-sweetened beverages sparingly to decrease the risk of obesity in their children,” said Dr Hu in a press release.2

However, the researchers noted, a maternal processed dietary food pattern, which included a higher intake of dairy, salad dressing, processed meat, and cold breakfast cereal, did not appear to impact childhood growth outcomes.

—Christina Vogt


  1. Hu Z, Tylavsky FA, Kocak M, et al. Maternal dietary patterns during pregnancy predict early childhood growth trajectories and obesity risk. Paper presented at: American Heart Association 2019 Scientific Sessions; November 16-18, 2019; Philadelphia, PA.
  2. Heart-healthy lifestyle and nutrition during pregnancy helps kids develop healthy hearts [press release]. Dallas, TX. American Heart Association. November 11, 2019. Accessed November 12, 2019.