Mothers’ Diets, Children’s Diets, and Psychopathology

More items added to the list of early-life environmental factors that increase the risk for mental illness.

Nutritional control is one of the more intractable problems of treating patients with antipsychotics and is particularly salient for pregnant women taking antipsychotics. Thus, knowledge of how gestational diets affect offspring is important for psychiatrists.

These researchers analyzed data from a study that invited participation by all mothers who gave birth in Norway during 1999–2008. In this substudy, 23,020 mothers (21% of those in the larger study) completed questionnaires about their diet in pregnancy and their children’s diets at ages 6, 18, 36, and 60 months. Beginning when the children were 18 months, mothers completed the Child Behavior Checklist. Dietary patterns were scored as healthy (e.g., emphasizing fruits and vegetables) or unhealthy (emphasizing snacks and processed foods).

Children’s externalizing psychopathology was significantly associated with their mothers’ or the children’s own unhealthy diets, even when analyses controlled for multiple socioeconomic and gestational variables. Internalizing psychopathology was associated with children’s unhealthy diets.

These data add items to the burgeoning list of environmental gestational and early-life factors that increase the risk for psychopathology in offspring (e.g., influenza, inadequate folate). For psychiatric patients — whose children are already at heightened genetic/familial risk for poor psychiatric outcomes — dietary education may not resonate when it comes to themselves, but might be effective when they are told eating habits affect their offspring. Thus, for pregnant patients and for patients planning a family, clinicians need to emphasize that mothers’ unhealthy diets directly affect behavior in their children.

Jacka FN et al. Maternal and early postnatal nutrition and mental health of offspring by age 5: A prospective cohort study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2013 Jul 19; [e-pub ahead of print]. (

Barbara Geller, MD Reviewing Jacka FN et al., J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2013 Jul 19;

Published by Raul Ramirez, L.Ac., Ph.D.

Physician, Catch Wrestler, Kickboxer, Vegan, Progressive

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