Eating too much sugar during pregnancy could affect your child's intelligence and memory, a new study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine has found.
The study looked at dietary data from over 1,000 pregnant women and their children between 1999 and 2002, as part of Project Viva. They then assessed the cognitive abilities of the children in early and mid-childhood, in order to examine the effects of the sugars sucrose and fructose consumed by mothers on their child's cognition.
The study found that consuming greater quantities of sugar was associated with poorer cognition in their children, including poorer problem-solving abilities, poorer verbal memory and "poorer global intelligence associated with both verbal knowledge and non-verbal skills". The association was even stronger specifically for consumers of sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas.
There's bad news for mothers-to-be who are thinking they'll just switch to diet drinks instead of sugary ones. Consuming diet soda was also associated with negative effects on child cognition, with children showing poorer intelligence in both verbal and non-verbal skills.
The researchers also studied the effects of the children themselves consuming sugars – in all its many forms – during early childhood. Eating fruit was associated with higher cognitive abilities, with children scoring higher in terms of their verbal intelligence, motor skills, and their receptive vocabulary.
The researchers found that drinking fruit juice, however, was not associated with improved cognition, with the researchers noting that "the benefits are from other aspects of fruits, such as phytochemicals, and not fructose itself".
The researchers suggested that consuming less sugar and diet drinks during pregnancy could have a meaningful and positive impact on your child's health and during their early years, children should eat whole fruit instead of just consuming the high-sugar juice to help improve cognition.
They called for keeping federal nutrition programs well funded and strong, and to continue to promote diets rich in fruits and low in added sugars, with easy, accessible facts about nutrition available.
“This study provides evidence that there should be no further delays in implementing the new Nutrition Facts label," lead investigator Juliana Cohen in a statement.
"The new label will provide information on added sugars so that pregnant women and parents can make informed choices regarding added sugars and more easily limit their intake."