THURSDAY, July 6, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Bingeing on chocolate, pastries and soda during pregnancy might have an unintended downside -- setting kids up for asthma and allergies, new research suggests.
The study of more than 9,000 mother-child pairs in Britain can't prove cause-and-effect. However, the researchers found that children born to the 20 percent of mothers with the highest sugar intake during pregnancy were 38 percent more likely to have an allergy by the age of 7, and 73 percent more likely to have two or more allergies.
The children were assessed at age 7 for common allergies such as dust mites, cat and grass.
Compared to children born to women in the lowest category of sugar intake, these kids also had double the odds for allergic asthma, the researchers found.
The British team stressed that the association remained even after they factored out the kids' own daily sugar intake.
"We cannot say on the basis of these observations that a high intake of sugar by mothers in pregnancy is definitely causing allergy and allergic asthma in their offspring," lead researcher Seif Shaheen, a professor at Queen Mary University of London, said in a university news release.
"However, given the extremely high consumption of sugar in the West, we will certainly be investigating this hypothesis further with some urgency," he said.
Two experts agreed the findings are intriguing, but they added that more study is needed.
While the findings need to be confirmed in subsequent trials, "the data is exciting in that it suggests that we may be able to control, through maternal diet during pregnancy, the outcomes of allergies and allergic asthma in unborn children," said Dr. Sherry Farzan. She's an allergy specialist at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y.
Dr. Jennifer Wu is an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She agreed that "with the rise in allergies, anything that can be done to decrease risks should be explored. Further studies with larger numbers are needed, but already doctors should start to have conversations with their patients about diet."
The British researchers said more study is planned.
"The first step is to see whether we can replicate these findings in a different cohort of mothers and children," Shaheen said. "If we can, then we will design a trial to test whether we can prevent childhood allergy and allergic asthma by reducing the consumption of sugar by mothers during pregnancy. In the meantime, we would recommend that pregnant women follow current guidelines and avoid excessive sugar consumption."
The study was published July 5 in the European Respiratory Journal.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has more on preventing allergies and asthma in children.