Adequate intake of folic acid during pregnancy can help prevent childhood obesity, a new study found. The protective link is even more beneficial to children born to mothers who are also suffering from obesity.

Obesity among adults and children contribute to the development of other health conditions such as stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Among expecting mothers, obesity also raises the risks of developing pregnancy-related conditions such as birth defects, preterm birth and stillbirth.

A mother's maternal health also passes on long-term health risks to the unborn child, including higher chances of developing childhood obesity.

"Maternal nutrition during pregnancy can have long-lasting effects on child health, as well as the health of a mother after pregnancy," said lead researcher Xiaobin Wang, M.D., M.P.H., Sc.D. from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The research team analyzed the health records and outcomes of over 1,500 mother-and-child tandems who belong in the Boston Birth Cohort. This low-income, minority population has high rates of both maternal and child obesity. The children in the study ranged between 2 to 9 years old.

The team analyzed health data taken before, during and after the mothers' pregnancies. The team measured maternal folate levels by measuring the stored plasma samples procured two to three days post-childbirth.

They found that the higher the maternal folate levels, the lower the risk for childhood obesity. Among the obese mothers, the ones with healthy levels of maternal folate were 43 percent less likely to have an overweight or obese child when compared to women with the lowest levels of folate.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in six children and adolescents are suffering from obesity in the United States.

Folate is an essential B vitamin that can also lower the fetus' risk of developing neural tube defects. These are the malformations that affect the unborn child's spine, spinal cord and brain.

The CDC also recommended that women from ages 15 to 45 years old should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Folic acid is a synthetic form of the B-vitamin.

Apart from supplements, women can also eat food items fortified with folic acid. Natural folate can be found in various vegetables and fruits including lentils, leafy greens and raspberries.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The findings were published in the JAMA Pediatrics on June 13.

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