Fathers’ food choices have a lasting effect on future health of unborn children

Children's Health

What fathers eat has a lasting effect on the future health of their unborn children, new research has revealed.

The Queensland Family Cohort study, led by The University of Queensland and Mater Research, identified an urgent need for targeted public health messaging to improve the diets of soon-to-be parents.

The researchers examined dietary data from almost 200 couples receiving antenatal care at Australia’s largest maternity hospital, the Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane between 2018 and 2021.

Principal Investigator Professor Vicki Clifton said the study found pregnant women’s dietary intake was strongly influenced by their partner.

We know behaviors during the first 1,000 days of life, starting from conception, influence developmental trajectories of adult chronic diseases.

Healthy eating during pregnancy provides the unborn child with an important foundation for future good health, but many pregnant women aren’t meeting the recommended Australian Dietary Guidelines.

The research suggests better education and support for partners could help improve the eating habits of expectant mums, which in turn will make the foetus healthier and the future risk of disease.”

Professor Vicki Clifton, Principal Investigator

Lead author and Mater Research Strategic Grant for Outstanding Women recipient Associate Professor Shelley Wilkinson from UQ’s School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences said was very little research on the role fathers played in a pregnant woman’s nutrition.

“While it’s known that education, income and Body Mass Index influence how women eat in pregnancy, this study addresses the gap in knowledge in how a partner’s eating habits influence mums-to-be,” said Dr Wilkinson said.

“The study also showed women with a higher pre-pregnancy BMI were far more likely to gain above recommended weight gain ranges, suggesting the urgent need for evidence-informed public health policy and programs to improve diet quality during pregnancy and help prevent intergenerational effects.”

Researchers found a very low proportion of participants met the five, core food group intake recommendations.

Only 41.4 per cent of women met daily fruit and 28.4 per cent vegetable intake recommendations, compared to around 31 per cent and 15 per cent of their partners.

Brisbane mother of four, Vicki Holohan said her husband Thomas Holohan influenced what she ate during her pregnancy.

“Thomas usually enjoys cooking and often does make a family meal but whilst I was pregnant, I was feeling extra tired and so during that period he was making most of our family’s meal choices,” she said.

“I was always trying to be careful about what I ate, but I definitely relied on Thomas to drive our meal choices during my pregnancy.”

Thomas Holohan said he may have done things a little differently if he had known his food choices would flow through to their babies.

“As Dads, we get used to thinking our work will begin when the baby is born, but this study shows a father’s role starts much earlier,” Mr Holohan said.

The collaborative study also involved researchers from the University of Newcastle, University of Wollongong and University of Southampton.

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