Interesting research by Christoper Kuzawa, Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University. The field research followed more than 3,000 pregnant Filipino women and their offspring, and filtered through 3 decades of participation.
It is interesting that what trended is this: what the maternal grandmother ate and how big or small the baby was directly affected the subsequent daughter’s children. And in some instances, how the second generation’s diet as a child affected the third generation’s offspring.
The following are powerful findings from Fetal Origins of Developmental Plasticity: Are Fetal Cues Reliable Predictors of Future Nutritional Environments?
Intergenerational studies that track birthweight records across multiple generations find that the mother’s own birth weight is among the strongest predictors of her offspring’s birthweight….These findings have been taken as support for the hypothesis, now 35 years old, that the nutritional experiences of the mother when she was a fetus condition the intrauterine nutritional environment that she provides her own offspring, with effects stronger through the female line…And while this intergenerational effect is best documented for prenatal nutrition, several recent studies suggest that what a mother ate as a child also influences offspring growth.
Reading further, not only does prenatal health give a possible clue to the next generation’s health, but also what the female’s nutritional environment was – after birth – in childhood.
Although not focused on birthweight as an outcome, more direct evidence for an intergenerational influence of childhood nutrition comes from the INCAP supplementation trial in Guatemala (Stein et al., 2003, 2004). In this study, offspring of women who received a high-quality nutritional supplement during childhood grew faster during the first 36 months of life. While the mechanisms remain to be established, these studies suggest that a female’s nutritional experiences after birth continue to condition the nutritional environment that she will provide her own offspring, with measurable effects on both prenatal and postnatal growth in the next generation.
If this isn’t a wake up call on how we should be taking care of ourselves and our children by way of nutritional choices, I don’t know what is. The fact that the nutritional choices we make as procreating women can or may affect our grandchildren is eye opening. A little scary, but saying no to that coveted junkfood now may be the best gift to give to our daughters, and our daughters’ daughters.
For more on Chris Kuzawa, PhD, and his research, visit his research page.
Kuzawa, Christoper W. “Fetal Origins of Developmental Plasticity: Are Fetal Cues Reliable Predictors of Future Nutritional Environments?” American Journal of Human Biology (2005): 5-21. Web.