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New Study on Folic Acid and Childhood Obesity: What You Need to Know



About the study

New research out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics (JAMA Pediatrics) on June 13, 2016, suggests that children may have a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese if their mothers had low folate levels during pregnancy.

In this ongoing study, researchers looked at data from 1,517 mothers and their babies in the Boston Birth Cohort, whom are primarily from a low-income and minority population. Both mothers and their babies were followed from the time of birth (which occurred between 1998 to 2012), for a period of up to nine years (between 2003 to 2014). The mother’s blood levels of folate were checked within 2 to 3 days of delivery.  

What did the study find?

The researchers found that the lower the level of folate in the mother’s blood within the first few days after giving birth, the higher the risk that her child would become overweight or obese. The risk increased further if the mother herself was obese with low folate levels. However, the risk of child being obese or overweight was reduced if the mother had higher blood levels of folate, even if the mother was obese.

What does this mean to me?

Folate is one of the eight B vitamins found naturally in a wide variety of foods. Folic acid is the form of this nutrient used to fortify cereals and breads in North America, and also the form found in vitamin supplements. 

During pregnancy, women are typically advised to supplement with folic acid (usually in the form of a prenatal multivitamin) to prevent neural tube birth defects. We know that adequate supplementation of this vitamin, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy, is protective for a child’s development. This study further underscores the importance of prenatal recommendations for folic acid that are currently in place. Health Canada recommends that women who are planning a pregnancy take 400 mcg/0.4 mg of folic acid daily, while women who are pregnant are advised to get 600 mcg/0.6 mg of folic acid daily.  However, as data continues to emerge, further research may be needed to identify higher or optimal (rather than minimal) levels of folic acid intake during pregnancy.

The nutritional status of a mother during pregnancy can have a significant impact on their child’s future health. For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, it’s important to speak to your healthcare practitioner to determine the appropriate level of folic acid to supplement with, and to always follow the directions on the product label.    

To read more about this study, click here

To see Jamieson’s lineup of prenatal supplements, click here