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Proper Maternal Folate Level May Reduce Child Obesity Risk

Face of infant seen over back shoulder of mother

Proper maternal folate levels during pregnancy may protect children from future obesity, an NIH-funded study finds.

Proper maternal folate levels during pregnancy may protect children from a future risk of obesity, especially those born to obese mothers, according to a study led by researchers funded by NICHD. The study was published online in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Maternal nutrition during pregnancy can have long-lasting effects on child health, as well as the health of a mother after pregnancy,” said the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Xiaobin Wang of Johns Hopkins University. “Our results suggest that adequate maternal folate may mitigate the effect of a mother’s obesity on her child’s health.”

Obesity in children and adults is a serious health issue in the United States, contributing to such conditions as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. During pregnancy, maternal obesity also increases the risk for a range of pregnancy complications such as stillbirth, birth defects and preterm birth. Furthermore, babies born to obese mothers have long-term health risks, including a higher risk of obesity in childhood.

Folate, an essential B vitamin, reduces the fetus’ risk for neural tube defects, which are malformations affecting the brain, spine and spinal cord. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms of folic acid (a synthetic form of folate) daily to reduce their children’s risk for neural tube defects. 

“Folate is well-known for preventing brain and spinal cord defects in a developing fetus, but its effects on metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and obesity, is less understood,” said Dr. Cuilin Zhang, NICHD senior investigator and a study co-author. “This study uncovers what may be an additional benefit of folate and identifies a possible strategy for reducing childhood obesity.”

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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Associate Editor: Carla Garnett
Carla.Garnett@nih.gov

Staff Writers:

Eric Bock
Eric.Bock@nih.gov

Dana Talesnik
Dana.Talesnik@nih.gov

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