NIH-funded study finds proper maternal folate levels reduce childhood obesity

15 June 2016 (Last Updated June 15th, 2016 18:30)

A study led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded researchers has revealed that proper maternal folate levels during pregnancy may protect children from a future risk of obesity, especially those born to women who are obese.

A study led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded researchers has revealed that proper maternal folate levels during pregnancy may protect children from a future risk of obesity, especially those born to women who are obese.

Folate is an essential vitamin B that helps reduce the fetus' risk for neural tube defects, which are malformations affecting the spine, brain and spinal cord of the infant.

Babies born to obese mothers have long-term health risks that include a higher risk of obesity during childhood, which might further lead to conditions such as stroke, heart disease and type II diabetes.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, women of childbearing age should take 400mg of a synthetic form of folate daily, known as folic acid, in order to reduce the risk for neural tube defects in their children.

"Our results suggest that adequate maternal folate may mitigate the effect of a mother's obesity on her child's health."

Johns Hopkins University Baltimore study principal investigator Xiaobin Wang said: "Maternal nutrition during pregnancy can have long-lasting effects on child health, as well as the health of a mother after pregnancy.

"Our results suggest that adequate maternal folate may mitigate the effect of a mother's obesity on her child's health."

The study was published online in medical journal JAMA Pediatrics and funded by NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

As part of the research, the study of folate from stored plasma samples collected two to three days after delivery revealed a wide range of maternal folate levels.

The researchers involved in the study found an L-shaped relationship between maternal folate levels and child obesity, which means that the lowest level of folate in the mother results in the maximum risk of obesity in the child.

However, when the folate levels reached about 20nm/L, which is within the normal range for adults, further increase in folate levels did not provide additional benefits, thereby determining a threshold or ceiling effect.

According to the study, obese mothers tended to have lower folate levels than normal weight mothers.

When the researchers only studied the obese mothers, they discovered that children of obese mothers with adequate folate levels, that is, at least 20nm/L had a 43% lower risk of obesity when compared to children of obese mothers with lower levels of folate, which is less than 20nm/L.

The authors of the study stated that an 'optimal' rather than 'minimal' folate concentration might prove to be beneficial for women planning a pregnancy, and particularly for women with obesity.