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Sugar and Pregnancy

Pregnant women who consume sugary drinks during pregnancy may be putting their children at risk of developing asthma in mid-childhood

A new study recently published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, suggests that children between the ages of seven and nine were at a greater risk of developing asthma if their mothers drank sugary drinks while pregnant.
However, children were also at greater risk if they consumed high amounts of fructose during early childhood the study stated.
“Previous studies have linked intake of high fructose corn syrup sweetened beverages with asthma in school children, but there is little information about when during early development exposure to fructose might influence later health," Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, lead author of study.

The research

For the study, Sheryl Rifas-Shiman and her team looked at 1,068 mother-child pairs who were also part of another study based in Eastern Massachusetts. This study looked at ways of improving the overall health of mothers and their children.

Going into their third trimesters, expectant women were asked to complete questionnaires about what they were eating and drinking, including how often they consumed sugary carbonated drinks and sweetened fruit drinks.

Avoiding high intake of sugary beverages during pregnancy and in early childhood could be one of several ways to reduce the risk of childhood asthma,"

Sheryl Rifas-Shiman, Harvard Medical School

When their children reached 3.3 years, the mothers were asked about their drinking and eating habits again, but this time to include what their children were eating and drinking. The mothers also stated if their child had asthma.

The study concluded that in mid-childhood, 19% of children had asthma, and pregnant women who consumed the most sugar-sweetened beverage and fructose were 63% and 61% more likely to have children who had asthma.

"Avoiding high intake of sugary beverages during pregnancy and in early childhood could be one of several ways to reduce the risk of childhood asthma,” Rifas-Shiman said.

Study Limitations

Study limitations include the fact that an observational study cannot show cause and effect, and study participants were mostly from more affluent families, so findings may not be generalisable to socio-economically disadvantaged families.

Pregnancy and diet

Many eminent dieticians agree that whilst most people should avoid over-consumption of artificially sweetened sugary drinks, pregnant women in particular should be more alert to their negative impact.

Pregnancy is an important time for maximising nutrition, not only for the developing baby, but also for the mother. Artificially sweetened sugary drinks typically have no nutritional value, but are high in empty calories.

The focus during pregnancy should be eating nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables, meats and alternatives."

Diet soda drinks aren’t any better because they also tend to include caffeine and artificial sweeteners.

Expecting mothers should also not go over their daily intake of caffeine (which is around 200-300 mg total), and for some, artificial sweeteners may have a negative effect on gut flora.

The focus during pregnancy should be eating nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables, meats and alternatives.

Because it’s such an important time for growth and development, the focus of diet should be on nutrient dense foods.

Confusion around added sugar

Dieticians state there is often confusion around how much sugar is in sugary drinks available on the market. Sugary drinks contain added processed sugar [with the exception of unsweetened fruit juice], which means that it’s not naturally occurring and there’s no vitamins and minerals attached.

Natural sugars occur in some whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. These foods, although they contain, in some instances high levels, natural sugar, are also nutrient-dense.

And for children, in particular, processed added sugar can be present in many products targeted at them. This can include soda drinks, fruit juice, fruit punch, sweetened yogurt, candy, canned fruit and fruit “snacks” are all examples of foods and drinks with fructose.

It is not too difficult to see how there could be a connection between sugar-sweetened beverages during pregnancy, and perhaps a pre-disposition to craving sugary foods and beverages into childhood, and then the connection between obesity and asthma.

UK research study

In another study of almost 9,000 mother and child pairs starting in the 1990s, researchers at Queen Mary University London, in the UK, found a link between free sugars, such as those found in fizzy drinks and processed food, and asthma.

The researchers compared the 20% of mothers who consumed the most sugar, equivalent to more than five teaspoons a day, or two cans of regular coke, to the 20% who consumed the least.

We recommend that pregnant women follow current guidelines and avoid excessive sugar consumption"

Professor Seif Shaheen, Lead researcher, QMUL

The study found that the children of those in the top category had a roughly a one in five chance of developing asthma, while those in the lowest category had a one in ten.


Credit: Asthma

Scientists have long tried to explain the increase in prevalence of asthma over the last half century.

Changes in diet, and in particular a heavier reliance on sugar, have been suspected as a leading cause, but until now there has been sparse research into the role of sugar during pregnancy.

It is thought the sugar link with asthma may be explained by high intakes of fructose triggering an immune response leading to inflammation in developing lungs.

Professor Shaheen said: "We cannot say on the basis of these observations that a high intake of sugar by mothers in pregnancy is definitely causing allergy and allergic asthma in their offspring.

However, given the extremely high consumption of sugar in the West, we will certainly be investigating this hypothesis further with some urgency.

The first step is to see whether we can replicate these findings in a different cohort of mothers and children.

If we can, then we will design a trial to test whether we can prevent childhood allergy and allergic asthma by reducing the consumption of sugar by mothers during pregnancy.

In the meantime, we would recommend that pregnant women follow current guidelines and avoid excessive sugar consumption."

The study is published in the European Respiratory Journal.

See our article on health scams at: Cartoon illustration.


A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any time, but is especially vital if you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow.

At EduKational Restaurant we provide Health Promoting foods for all ages at all times.
We believe that healthy 'Intelligent Eating' as part of a 'Balanced Diet' is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle for your lifetime.

Have a healthy diet in pregnancy







Article by American Thoracic Society. December 08, 2017

NHS choices, UK - Pregnancy and baby care

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