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Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Apr;93(4):780-8. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.005801. Epub 2011 Feb 10.

Prenatal fatty acid status and child adiposity at age 3 y: results from a US pregnancy cohort.

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  • 1Obesity Prevention Program, Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Boston, MA 02215, USA.



Exposure to polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in early life may influence adiposity development.


We examined the extent to which prenatal n-3 (omega-3) and n-6 (omega-6) PUFA concentrations were associated with childhood adiposity.


In mother-child pairs in the Project Viva cohort, we assessed midpregnancy fatty acid intakes (n = 1120), maternal plasma PUFA concentrations (n = 227), and umbilical cord plasma PUFA concentrations (n = 302). We performed multivariable regression analyses to examine independent associations of n-3 PUFAs, including docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids (DHA + EPA), n-6 PUFAs, and the ratio of n-6:n-3 PUFAs, with child adiposity at age 3 y measured by the sum of subscapular and triceps skinfold thicknesses (SS + TR) and risk of obesity (body mass index ≥95th percentile for age and sex).


Mean (±SD) DHA + EPA intake was 0.15 ± 0.14 g DHA + EPA/d, maternal plasma concentration was 1.9 ± 0.6%, and umbilical plasma concentration was 4.6 ± 1.2%. In children, SS + TR was 16.7 ± 4.3 mm, and 9.4% of children were obese. In the adjusted analysis, there was an association between each SD increase in DHA + EPA and lower child SS + TR [-0.31 mm (95% CI: -0.58, -0.04 mm) for maternal diet and -0.91 mm (95% CI: -1.63, -0.20 mm) for cord plasma] and lower odds of obesity [odds ratio (95% CI): 0.68 (0.50, 0.92) for maternal diet and 0.09 (0.02, 0.52) for cord plasma]. Maternal plasma DHA + EPA concentration was not significantly associated with child adiposity. A higher ratio of cord plasma n-6:n-3 PUFAs was associated with higher SS + TR and odds of obesity.


An enhanced maternal-fetal n-3 PUFA status was associated with lower childhood adiposity.

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