Mother's dietary quality during pregnancy and offspring's dietary quality in adolescence: Follow-up from a national birth cohort study of 19,582 mother-offspring pairs

Anne Ahrendt Bjerregaard, Thorhallur Ingi Halldorsson, Inge Tetens, Sjurdur Frodi Olsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) hypothesis postulates that exposures during early life, such as maternal dietary intake during pregnancy, may have a lifelong impact on the individual's susceptibility to diseases. The individual's own lifestyle habits are obviously an additional factor, but we have only limited knowledge regarding how it may interact with prenatal exposures in determining later disease. To gain further insight into these potentially complex relationships, we examined the longitudinal association between maternal diet quality during pregnancy and diet quality in early adolescence in a contemporary cohort.Methods and findings: From 1996 to 2003, the Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC) was established. Women from across the country were enrolled, and dietary intake in midpregnancy was assessed concurrently with a 360-item food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) ( During 2013-2018, dietary intake was assessed at age 14 years with a 150-item FFQ ( in the DNBC children. Among the 19,582 mother-offspring pairs included in the analyses, the mean age (±standard deviation [SD]) was 30.7 (±4.1) years and 14.0 (±0.0) years for mothers and offspring, respectively. The majority of both mothers (67%) and offspring (76%) were classified as normal weight. For both questionnaires, a Healthy Eating Index (HEI) was developed as an indicator for diet quality based on current Danish Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDG) including eight components: fruits and vegetables, fish, dietary fibres, red meat, saturated fatty acids (SFAs), sodium, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), and added sugar. The HEI score was divided into quartiles; individuals in the highest quartile represented those with the most optimal diet. The maternal HEI score was correlated positively with offspring HEI score (Pearson r = 0.22, p < 0.001). A log-linear binomial model was used to estimate the relative risk of the offspring being in the highest quartile of HEI at age 14 years if the mother was ranked in quartile 4 during pregnancy. Results showed that offspring born to mothers who were in the highest HEI quartile during pregnancy were more likely themselves to be located in the highest HEI quartile at age 14 years (risk ratio [RR]: 2.1, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 2.0, 2.3, p < 0.001). Adjusting for maternal prepregnancy body mass index (BMI), parity, education, alcohol intake, physical activity, smoking, and breastfeeding, as well as offspring total energy intake and sex, did not influence the effect estimates. The limitations of our study include that some attrition bias towards more healthy participants was observed when comparing participants with nonparticipants. Bias in the FFQ method may also have resulted in underrepresentation of adolescents with poorer diet quality.Conclusions: In this study using data from a large national birth cohort, we observed that maternal diet quality during pregnancy was associated with diet quality of the offspring at age 14 years. These findings indicate the importance of separating early dietary exposures from later dietary exposures when studying dietary aetiologies of diseases postulated to have developmental origins such as, for instance, obesity or asthma in observational settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • diet
  • Nutrition
  • pregnancy
  • Body mass index
  • diet and type 2 diabetes
  • food
  • Body Weight
  • Meat


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