The evidence that maternal non-nutritive sweetener (NNS) intake during pregnancy increases childhood obesity risk is conflicting. A potential reason for this is that all prior studies examined childhood body mass index (BMI) at only one timepoint and at different ages. We examined the extent to which NNS intake during pregnancy is associated with offspring BMI z-score and body fat longitudinally from birth to 18 years.
A total of 1683 children from Project Viva, a prospective pre-birth cohort, were recruited from 1999 to 2002 in Massachusetts.
We assessed maternal NNS intake in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy using a semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire. Our outcomes were offspring BMI z-score, (at birth, infancy (median 6.3 months), early childhood (3.2 years), mid-childhood (7.7 years), and early adolescence (12.9 years)), sum of skinfolds (SS), fat mass index (FMI) measured by dual x-ray absorptiometry, and BMI z-score trajectory from birth to 18 years. We adjusted models for maternal pre-pregnancy BMI, age, race/ethnicity, education, parity, pre-pregnancy physical activity, smoking, and paternal BMI and education.
A total of 70% of mothers were white and pre-pregnancy BMI was 24.6 ± 5.2 kg/m. The highest quartile of NNS intake (Q4: 0.98 ± 0.91 servings/day) was associated with higher BMI z-score in infancy (β 0.20 units; 95% CI 0.02, 0.38), early childhood (0.21; 0.05, 0.37), mid-childhood (0.21; 0.02, 0.40), and early adolescence (0.14; -0.07, 0.35) compared with Q1 intake (Q1: 0.00 ± 0.00 servings/day). Q4 was also associated with higher SS in early childhood (1.17 mm; 0.47, 1.88), mid-childhood (2.33 mm; 0.80, 3.87), and early adolescence (2.27 mm; -0.06, 4.60) and higher FMI in mid-childhood (0.26 kg/m; -0.07, 0.59). Associations of maternal NNS intake with offspring BMI z-score became stronger with increasing age from 3 to 18 years (P < 0.0001).
Maternal NNS intake during pregnancy is associated with increased childhood BMI z-score and body fat from birth to teenage years. This is relevant given the escalating obesity epidemic, and popularity of NNS.