There has been an “epidemic” of asthma and allergies in children in the last 50 years. Currently 235 million people have asthma and it is expected to affect 400 million by 2025. The reason why so many more children are being diagnosed with asthma and other allergies is still unclear. However, a study by the European Respiratory Journal studied 9,000 children born between April 1, 1991 and December 31, 1992, looked specifically at the amount of free sugar the mothers consumed during pregnancy. Free sugar is sugar present in honey, sweeteners, juice, and what is added to products, not those naturally found in fruit and vegetables. Eating excessive amounts of sugar during pregnancy is also known to put a mother at risk developing gestational diabetes and babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes may have problems with breathing, low glucose levels and jaundice.
The study calculated the free sugar intake during pregnancy based on self-reported estimates in questionnaires. The researchers compared the sugar intake with allergies and asthma diagnosed in the children starting at age 7. Sixty-two percent of the children studied did not have any allergic condition, but the others had asthma or wheezing and whistling atopy (hereditary allergies), eczema, and/or hay fever. They also reviewed sugar intake of mothers—those who ate the least sugar (34 grams or 7 teaspoons, per day) compared to those who ate the most (between 82 and 345 grams, 16 and 69 teaspoons, per day). Children of mothers with highest sugar intake during pregnancy had 38% higher risk of allergy diagnosis and a 73% increased risk of being diagnosed with an allergy to two or more allergens. Allergic asthma risk increased by 101% (twice as likely as low sugar consumption) for children of mothers on the high-sugar consumption group. Non-allergy- related asthma had a weak correlation between that and sugar-consumption of mothers.
The study made attempts to take into account environmental factors but there needs to be more research done to define the cause of allergies to gestational sugar intake only. It was a good first step in locating a problem and investigating it as a potential link to allergies and asthma. All in all, a healthy diet with minimal sugar affects everything from how we feel to our children’s health–something to always keep in mind.