Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy could lead to childhood obesity

02 March 2018
pregnant woman

Vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women could pre-program babies to grow into obese children and adults, according to new research.

Researchers from the University of California found that 6-year-olds born to mothers with very low vitamin D levels during their first trimester had bigger waists – about half an inch plumper on average – than peers whose mothers had enough vitamin D in early pregnancy.

The same children also had 2% more body fat.

The study, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity , examined the data of 532 mother-child pairs in Greece.

Maternal vitamin D concentrations were measured during the first prenatal visit. The child’s health and weight were measured at 4 and 6 years.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Vaia Lida Chatzi says although the increase in waist circumference was small, it can add up over a lifetime.

“These increases may not seem like much, but we’re not talking about older adults who have about 30 percent body fat.   Even a half-inch increase in waist circumference is a big deal, especially if you project this fat surplus across their life span.”

The researchers say more and more women suffer from vitamin D deficiency when pregnant.

About 66 percent of the pregnant women in the study had insufficient vitamin D in the first trimester, a critical period for organ development.

Associate Professor Chatzi says the exact link between vitamin D and future obesity is unclear, but animal studies have shown that vitamin D suppresses pre-fat cells (adipocytes) from maturing into fat cells.

Test tube studies of human fat cells also showed that vitamin D may hinder pre-fat cells from turning into fat cells.

“It’s possible that children of mothers with low vitamin D have a higher body mass index and body fat because vitamin D appears to disrupt the formation of fat cells.

“Optimal vitamin D levels in pregnancy could protect against childhood obesity, but more research is needed to confirm our findings. Vitamin D supplements in early pregnancy may be an easy fix to protect future generations.”

About 95 percent of the vitamin D produced in your body comes from sunshine, with the remaining 5 percent coming from eggs, fatty fish, fish liver oil and fortified foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt and cereal.

“We’re not sure why there is vitamin D deficiency even in places with abundant sunshine, but maybe people are spending too much time indoors with their screens or typing away in their office cubicles. Or maybe they’re using excessive amounts of sunscreen, which inhibits vitamin D production,” Associate Professor Chatzi says.