Eating Fish While Pregnant, Longer Breastfeeding, Lead to Better Infant Development
Both higher fish consumption and longer breastfeeding are linked to better physical and cognitive development in infants, according to a study of mothers and infants from Denmark. Maternal fish consumption and longer breastfeeding were independently beneficial.
“These results, together with findings from other studies of women in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, provide additional evidence that moderate maternal fish intake during pregnancy does not harm child development and may on balance be beneficial,” said Assistant Professor Emily Oken, lead author of the study.
The study, which appeared in the September issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was conducted by researchers from the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and the Maternal Nutrition Group from the Department of Epidemiology at Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, Denmark. These findings provide further evidence that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and compounds in breast milk are beneficial to infant development.
The study team looked at 25,446 children born to mothers participating in the Danish Birth Cohort, a study that includes pregnant women enrolled from 1997-2002. Mothers were interviewed about child development markers at 6 and 18 months postpartum and asked about their breastfeeding at 6 months postpartum. Prenatal diet, including amounts and types of fish consumed weekly, was assessed by a detailed food frequency questionnaire administered when they were six months pregnant.
During the interviews mothers were asked about specific physical and cognitive developmental milestones such as whether the child at six months could hold up his/her head, sit with a straight back, sit unsupported, respond to sound or voices, imitate sounds, or crawl. At 18 months, they were asked about more advanced milestones such as whether the child could climb stairs, remove his/her socks, drink from a cup, write or draw, use word-like sounds and put words together, and whether they could walk unassisted.
The children whose mothers ate the most fish during pregnancy were more likely to have better motor and cognitive skills. For example, among mothers who ate the least fish, 5.7% of their children had the lowest developmental scores at 18 months, compared with only 3.7% of children whose mothers had the highest fish intake. Compared with women who ate the least fish, women with the highest fish intake (about 60 grams - 2 ounces - per day on average) had children 25% more likely to have higher developmental scores at 6 months and almost 30% more likely to have higher scores at 18 months.
Longer duration of breastfeeding was also associated with better infant development, especially at 18 months. Breastmilk also contains omega-3 fatty acids. The benefit of fish consumption was similar among infants breastfed for shorter or longer durations.
Women in the U.S. have been advised to limit their fish intake to two servings a week because some fish contains high traces of mercury, which has demonstrated toxic effects. Information regarding mercury levels was not available in this population, but most women consumed cod, plaice, salmon, herring, and mackerel, fish types that tend to have low mercury content. In this study, consumption of three or more weekly servings of fish was associated with higher development scores, so in this case the nutrient benefits of prenatal fish appeared to outweigh toxicant harm.
“In previous work in a population of U.S. women, we similarly found that higher prenatal fish consumption was associated with an overall benefit for child cognitive development, but that higher mercury levels attenuated this benefit,” says Dr. Oken. “Therefore, women should continue to eat fish - especially during pregnancy - but should choose fish types likely to be lower in mercury.” Information on mercury levels in commonly consumed fish is available at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website (http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/sea-mehg.html.).
Fishy diet in early infancy cuts eczema risk
Early introduction of fish decreases the risk of eczema in infants
An infant diet that includes fish before the age of 9 months curbs the risk of developing eczema, indicates research published ahead of print in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The prevalence of atopic eczema and other allergic disease has risen sharply in developed countries in recent decades, say the authors. Environmental and dietary factors are thought to play a part.
The researchers quizzed the parents of 6 month old babies born in western Sweden in 2003 about their child's diet and any evidence of allergic eczema. They were quizzed again when the children reached the age of 12 months.
The children were all part of an ongoing health study, Infants of Western Sweden, which is tracking the long term health of almost 17000 babies.
Complete birth data and two sets of questionnaires were obtained for almost 5000 of the 8000 families contacted.
At six months, 13% of families said that their youngest child had already developed eczema. By the time the children had reached 12 months of age, one in five had the condition.
The average age at which first symptoms appeared was 4 months.
Genes had a significant impact. Children with a sibling or mother who had the condition were almost twice as likely to be affected by the age of 12 months.
But breast feeding, the age at which dairy products were introduced into the diet, and keeping a furry pet in the house had no impact on risk. Around one in five households had a pet.
However, the introduction of fish into the diet before the age of 9 months cut the risk of developing the disease by 25%. And a pet bird was also associated with a significant reduction in risk.
Variety of foods -- the key for child nutrition
New research shows that most children have a diet that contains enough essential vitamins and minerals
New research shows that most children have a diet that contains enough essential vitamins and minerals.
Analysis of the Government's own survey of children's diets and nutritional status has shown that the average child gets the recommended level of most vitamins and minerals, even though they consume more added sugars than recommended.
The study published online in the British Journal of Nutrition, looked at a nationally representative sample of children aged 4-18 years who took part in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. It found that the average child consumed levels of vitamins and most minerals that met recommendations, and in many cases, comfortably exceeded them. These conclusions were based on records from 7-day weighed food diaries and were confirmed by biochemical measurements of blood samples.
'The children in this study were healthy British children' said Mrs. Sigrid Gibson, lead author on the study. 'Some children who are fussy eaters might get lesser amounts of nutrients from their limited range of food choices, and if they also eat a lot of added sugars they might be at risk'. But she added, 'the solution is to broaden their choice of foods – it does not appear that simply discouraging sugar consumption would have any real benefit'.
Mrs. Gibson is an independent nutrition consultant, with over 20 year's experience of working with the government, food industry and agencies such as the Food Standards Agency. She is the author of over 30 peer-reviewed scientific publications and is a regular contributor to nutrition journals. 'There is an over-emphasis on avoiding sugar at all costs rather than having a balanced diet' said Mrs. Gibson. 'Concerns that added sugars 'dilute' the diet and jeopardise essential nutrients are just not founded'.
The school food trust works to improve the quality of school lunches by providing information on the Government's food and nutrient standards. They recommend 10% of your energy intake should come from added sugars. The children in this study had on average 15% of their energy from added sugars and still had enough of most vitamins and minerals.
Exercise and Calcium
Osteoporosis: Calcium and exercise to strengthen the bones – do you get enough?
People who are physically active and get enough calcium can strengthen their bones - even in old age / New online calcium calculator
Cologne, 12 September 2008: A stumble, a fall - a broken bone: many older people are afraid of this happening. The German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care published information today about how you can protect yourself. Research shows that regular adequate intake of calcium and exercise can strengthen the bones. But many people do not know whether they are getting enough calcium in their diets. The Institute has developed a calculator at www.informedhealthonline.org that can help you estimate if you are getting enough calcium.
Regular intake of calcium protects the bones
Getting older does not necessarily mean that you will get osteoporosis. However, the risk of osteoporosis does rise as we get older, and people over 70 often have brittle bones. A fall does not only mean bruises then, but it is easier for a bone to break. There are several ways to protect and strengthen bones, even when you are already older.
One important way is to get enough calcium regularly. To stop our bones losing too much strength we need an increasing amount of calcium as we get older. The best way to get it is with a calcium-rich diet. "Older people in particular are often not getting enough calcium," according to the Institute's Director, Professor Peter Sawicki.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum daily intake of calcium of 1,300 mg for women after the menopause and men over the age of 65. The Institute developed an online calculator for its website with the help of the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. The calculator helps you find out quickly and easily roughly how much calcium you are getting through your diet every day and whether that is enough.
If you cannot get enough calcium in your diet, then calcium supplements could help. Trials have shown that taking daily calcium supplements can help protect people who are at high risk of bone fracture. According to Professor Sawicki, "Even when you are already over 70, you can reduce your risk of bone fracture if you get enough calcium."
Exercise strengthens the bones and might help reduce the risk of falling
Some people believe that they can best protect themselves by not moving around too much and trying to avoid situations where they might have a chance of falling. But in reality being too immobile is one of the major risk factors for osteoporosis. If you spend a large part of the day sitting or lying down, your bones are more likely to become weak and brittle. Physical activity that involves carrying your weight can actually strengthen your bones. One of the easier ways to get exercise with a low risk of injury is brisk walking. According to the Institute, even in older age, walking is a simple way of getting enough exercise that people feel comfortable with - and it benefits more than the bones, as well.
Professor Sawicki said: "Injury is of course always possible when you exercise. But people who are more active strengthen their muscles and bones - and that can help them stay physically stable and secure. People may gain more confidence in their bodies and that might mean a lower risk of stumbling and falling."