Blame Mom? Study Links Mothers Ultra-Processed Food Diet with Kids Obesity

The results of a new scientific study have revealed that mothers’ diets high in ultra-processed food, (which contain significant amounts of synthetic and industrialized food chemicals and little to no natural ingredients), is linked to obesity and overweight health conditions in their children*.


Study overview

The researchers analyzed data for 19,958 children born to 14,553 mothers (45% boys, aged 7-17 years at study enrollment) using the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II)** and the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS I and II)*** in the United States.

A range of other potentially influential factors, known to be strongly correlated with childhood obesity, were also taken into account. These included mother’s weight (BMI), physical activity, smoking, living status (with partner or not), and partner’s education, as well as children’s ultra-processed food consumption, physical activity, and sedentary time.

Results overview

Overall, 2,471 (12%) children developed overweight or obesity during an average follow-up period of 4 years. The results showed there was a 26% higher risk in the group with the highest maternal ultra-processed food consumption (12.1 servings/day) versus the lowest consumption group (3.4 servings/day).

In a separate analysis of 2,790 mothers and 2,925 children with information on diet from 3 months pre-conception to delivery (peripregnancy), the researchers found that peripregnancy ultra-processed food intake was not significantly associated with an increased risk of offspring overweight or obesity.


The results show that a mother’s ultra-processed food consumption was associated with an increased risk of overweight or obesity in her offspring.  According to researchers, the study used data from several large ongoing studies with detailed dietary assessments over a relatively long period, and further analysis of the data produced consistent associations, suggesting that the results are robust.

* According to the World Health Organization [WHO], 39 million children were overweight or obese in 2020, leading to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and early death.

**The NHS II is an ongoing study tracking the health and lifestyles of 116,429 US female registered nurses aged 25-42 in 1989. From 1991, participants reported what they ate and drank, using validated food frequency questionnaires every four years.

***The GUTS I study began in 1996 when 16,882 children (aged 8-15 years) of NHS II participants completed an initial health and lifestyle questionnaire and were monitored every year between 1997 and 2001, and every two years thereafter.  In 2004, 10,918 children (aged 7-17 years) of NHS II participants joined the extended GUTS II study and were followed up in 2006, 2008, and 2011, and every two years thereafter.

Journal reference: Wang, Y., et al. Maternal consumption of ultra-processed foods and subsequent risk of offspring overweight or obesity: results from three prospective cohort, British Medical Journal (BMJ), October, 2022;379:e071767. Overview | overview | Study: doi: 10.1136/ bmj-2022-071767