A bacon and fish dish at Jenny Morris' cooking school in Green Point. Picture Rogan Ward. Story Terri-Lize. 14 03 2005

London - Pregnant women who eat too much of the “wrong” type of fat are likely to have fatter children, warn researchers.

They found consumption of high levels of fats found in cooking oils and nuts can affect the body weight of the child years later.

Scientists say new evidence suggests women should be eating more fish oils, known as omega 3 fatty acids, to give their children the best start in life.

But their benefits could be reduced by diets that contain too much omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).Researchers assessed the fat and muscle mass of 293 boys and girls at four and six years. The results were compared to the concentrations of different types of fatty acids measured in blood samples collected from their mothers during pregnancy.

The study found children born to mothers who had consumed greater levels of omega 6 during pregnancy had greater fat mass.

Dr Nicholas Harvey, senior lecturer at the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton, who led the research, said: “These results suggest that alterations to maternal diet during pregnancy to reduce omega 6 PUFAs intake might have a beneficial effect on the body composition of the developing child.” Results from the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, also showed a link between a mother’s levels of omega 3 and muscle mass in their children.

The higher the level of omega 3, the less fat in the baby and the more muscle and bone.

This suggests taking fish oil supplements might be beneficial in pregnancy, the authors said.

They said omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids seem to act in opposite directions on fat mass and this needs to be taken into account.

Previous trials have attempted to use omega 3 supplements in pregnancy to reduce fat mass in children – without looking at omega 6 intake.

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in oily fish and fish oil supplements, as well as pumpkin seeds and walnuts, and are essential to the development of the brain, eye and nervous system.

But they have reduced in the diet over the last two decades, often replaced by omega 6 fats, found in olive and sunflower oil.

Professor Cyrus Cooper, professor of rheumatology and director of the MRC unit, said: “This work should help us to design interventions aimed at optimising body composition in childhood and later adulthood and thus improve the health of future generations.” - Daily Mail