The effects of poor nutrition are not limited to a single generation. A new study published in The FASEB Journal has suggested that parents who received inadequate nutrition in the womb can impact their own children’s growth. Specifically, mothers who were malnourished in utero can bear smaller babies, while fathers who experienced the same nutritional deficiencies can have children who were shorter by the age of two than other children of the same age.
To come to these results, the researchers looked at rural Gambia. They selected this West African country for their study due to the climate: the single, annual rainy season creates a “hunger” and “harvest” period. Mothers and fathers who were born during the hunger period were noted for being “nutritionally stressed in utero”, and from here the researchers analyzed the effects on their offspring.
Using 31 multiple regression tests, the team analyzed Gambian children who were born between 1972 and 2011, scrutinizing the consequences of parental birth seasons on the participants’ birth weights and lengths, and their size at two years old.
“Our results indicate that periods of nutritional restriction in a parent’s fetal life can have intergenerational consequences in human populations,” the researchers wrote in their study. They found that mothers influenced the growth of babies in the womb, while fathers impacted postnatal growth. (Related: Is this why children have poor motor skills? Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy linked to lack of physical coordination in children)