It would be wonderful if all expectant mothers had the consciousness and the means to give their babies the very best head start. It would be wonderful if we never again had to mention the responsibility that pregnant women bear for the future health of their children. Alas, this is a fact of life that never goes away, and when bolstered by the power and persuasiveness of Big Soda, it is a fact with potentially disastrous implications.
In July of 2016, scientists from several Canadian institutions published what apparently was the first report to show correlation between maternal consumption of artificially sweetened drinks during pregnancy, and the BMI of their newborns. The subjects were 3,033 dyads (that’s a unit composed of one mother, one child) who took part in an ambitious longitudinal study with starting points between 2009 and 2012.
Researchers learned that the mother’s consumption of artificially sweetened beverages did not affect birth weight, but the difference showed up within a year. In other words, there was not unusual fetal growth, but there was postnatal weight gain. At one year of age, the infants whose mothers had consumed diet soda during pregnancy, showed it. At their first birthday weigh-in, the diet soda kids were twice as likely to be overweight.
Those pesky variables
The study, of course, also kept track of and accounted for a slew of variable factors, like maternal BMI, maternal education, prenatal smoking, breastfeeding, maternal diabetes, and introduction of solid foods. The diet soda gave every evidence of being responsible for “a 2-fold higher risk of overweight,” and statistical analysis could not account for it in any other way.
Studies always seem to contain a plea for further research on the topic at hand, and they often also include a reminder that there are always “residual and unmeasured confounding factors” lurking in the background of any research. Even the most comprehensive and intrusive study cannot keep track of everything. Human life is complicated, and some day the likelihood of postnatal weight gain might be measured against such contingencies as, “During pregnancy, did the mother experience a UFO sighting?”
Want to hear something weird? Sugar-sweetened beverages did not have the same effect. When pregnant moms drank soda sweetened with good old-fashioned real sugar, the poundage of the one-year-olds was not affected.
But then — and this demonstrates the ongoing necessity for more research into everything — one year later another report came out, this one from Massachusetts scientists who noted that “few have looked at beverage intake during pregnancy.” Unlike the Canadian study referenced above, they were specifically concerned with standard, sugary, non-diet fizzy drinks.
Other variables were charted, of course — the mother’s age, education, and income level; her BMI before pregnancy; smoking during pregnancy; duration of breastfeeding. This study encompassed 1,000 mother/child dyads. The mothers were interviewed during pregnancy, and the kids were assessed in early childhood (around age 3) and mid-childhood (between 6 and 11). The result, says journalist Carolyn Crist:
Pregnant women who drink non-diet sodas during pregnancy are more likely to have kids who carry extra body fat by age 7… Only regular sodas were associated with this difference. Juice, diet soda and water consumed during pregnancy weren’t linked to a higher BMI score in kids.
The scary part is, they are not talking about circus-freak moms guzzling cases of soda on the regular. No, even a small amount of sugar-sweetened soft drink made a difference — like, less than one serving per day. Why this should be true of soda, and not fruit juice, which also contains real sugar, is a mystery.
No doubt, by now, there is a study to indict fruit juice too, in either unusual fetal growth during gestation, or postnatal weight gain, or both. While the details are still fuzzy, the general outline of the issue is that expectant mothers do indeed carry a heavy weight of responsibility.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Infant Body Mass Index,” JAMANetwork.com, July 2016
Source: “Mother’s soda intake during pregnancy tied to child’s obesity risk,” Reuters.com, 07/13/17
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