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1.  Modifiable early-life risk factors for childhood adiposity and overweight: an analysis of their combined impact and potential for prevention1234 
Background: Early life may be a “critical period” when appetite and regulation of energy balance are programmed, with lifelong consequences for obesity risk. Insight into the potential impact of modifying early-life risk factors on later obesity can be gained by evaluating their combined effects.
Objective: The objective was to examine the relation between the number of early-life risk factors and obesity outcomes among children in a prospective birth cohort (Southampton Women's Survey).
Design: Five risk factors were defined: maternal obesity [prepregnant body mass index (BMI; in kg/m2) >30], excess gestational weight gain (Institute of Medicine, 2009), smoking during pregnancy, low maternal vitamin D status (<64 nmol/L), and short duration of breastfeeding (none or <1 mo). Obesity outcomes examined when the children were aged 4 and 6 y were BMI, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry–assessed fat mass, overweight, or obesity (International Obesity Task Force). Data were available for 991 mother-child pairs, with children born between 1998 and 2003.
Results: Of the children, 148 (15%) had no early-life risk factors, 330 (33%) had 1, 296 (30%) had 2, 160 (16%) had 3, and 57 (6%) had 4 or 5. At both 4 and 6 y, there were positive graded associations between number of early-life risk factors and each obesity outcome (all P < 0.001). After taking account of confounders, the relative risk of being overweight or obese for children who had 4 or 5 risk factors was 3.99 (95% CI: 1.83, 8.67) at 4 y and 4.65 (95% CI: 2.29, 9.43) at 6 y compared with children who had none (both P < 0.001).
Conclusions: Having a greater number of early-life risk factors was associated with large differences in adiposity and risk of overweight and obesity in later childhood. These findings suggest that early intervention to change these modifiable risk factors could make a significant contribution to the prevention of childhood obesity.
PMCID: PMC4307207  PMID: 25646335
adiposity; childhood obesity; early life; obesity; lifecourse; prevention
2.  Childhood bone mineral content is associated with methylation status of the RXRA promoter at birth 
Maternal vitamin D deficiency has been associated with reduced offspring bone mineral accrual. Retinoid-X Receptor-alpha (RXRA) is an essential cofactor in the action of 1,25(OH)2-vitamin D, and RXRA methylation in umbilical cord DNA has been associated with later offspring adiposity. We tested the hypothesis that RXRA methylation in umbilical cord DNA collected at birth is associated with offspring skeletal development, assessed by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, in a population-based mother-offspring cohort (Southampton Women’s Survey). Relationships between maternal plasma 25(OH)-vitamin D concentrations and cord RXRA methylation were also investigated. In 230 children aged 4 years, higher % methylation at 4 out of 6 RXRA CpG sites measured was correlated with lower offspring % bone mineral content (%BMC) (β=−0.02 to −0.04%/SD, p=0.002 to 0.043) and BMC corrected for body size (β=−2.1 to −3.4g/SD, p=0.002 to 0.047), with a further site associated with %BMC only. Similar relationships for %BMC were observed in a second independent cohort (n=64). Maternal free 25(OH)-vitamin D index was negatively associated with methylation at one of these RXRA CpG sites (β=−3.3 SD/unit, p=0.03). In addition to the mechanistic insights afforded by associations between maternal free 25(OH)-vitamin D index, RXRA methylation in umbilical cord DNA, and childhood BMC, such epigenetic marks in early life might represent novel biomarkers for adverse bone outcomes in the offspring.
PMCID: PMC3836689  PMID: 23907847
Epigenetic; methylation; umbilical cord; RXRA; vitamin D; DXA
3.  Association of early childhood abdominal circumference and weight gain with blood pressure at 36 months of age: secondary analysis of data from a prospective cohort study 
BMJ Open  2014;4(7):e005412.
To assess whether changes in measures of fat distribution and body size during early life are associated with blood pressure at 36 months of age.
Analysis of data collected from a prospective cohort study.
Community-based investigation in Southampton, UK.
761 children with valid blood pressure measurements, born to women participating in the Southampton Women’s Survey.
Primary and secondary outcome measures
Anthropometric measurements were collected at 0, 6, 12, 24 and 36 months and conditional changes between the time points calculated. Blood pressure was measured at 36 months. Factors possibly influencing the blood pressure were assessed using linear regression. All independent variables of interest and confounding variables were included in stepwise multiple regression to identify the model that best predicted blood pressure at 36 months.
Greater conditional gains in abdominal circumference (AC) between 0–6 and 24–36 months were associated with higher systolic and diastolic blood pressures at 36 months (p<0.001). Subscapular skinfold and height gains were weakly associated with higher blood pressures, while greater weight gains between 0–6, 12–24 and 24–36 months were more strongly associated, but the dominant influences were AC gains, particularly from 0–6 to 24–36 months. Thus one SD score increases in AC between 0–6 and 24–36 months were associated with 1.59 mm Hg (95% CI 0.97 to 2.21) and 1.84 mm Hg (1.24 to 2.46) higher systolic blood pressures, respectively, and 1.04 mm Hg (0.57 to 1.51) and 1.02 mm Hg (0.56, 1.48) higher diastolic pressures, respectively.
Conditional gains in abdominal circumference, particularly within 6 months of birth and in the year preceding measurement, were more positively associated with blood pressure at 36 months than gains in other anthropometric measures. Above-average AC gains in early childhood may contribute to adult hypertension and increased cardiovascular disease risk.
PMCID: PMC4091398  PMID: 24993768
4.  Objectively measured physical activity in four-year-old British children: a cross-sectional analysis of activity patterns segmented across the day 
Little is known about preschool-aged children’s levels of physical activity (PA) over the course of the day. Using time-stamped data, we describe the levels and patterns of PA in a population-based sample of four-year-old British children.
Within the Southampton Women’s Survey the PA levels of 593 4-year-old children (51% female) were measured using (Actiheart) accelerometry for up to 7 days. Three outcome measures: minutes spent sedentary (<20 cpm); in light (LPA: ≥20 – 399 cpm) and in moderate-to-vigorous activity (MVPA: ≥400 cpm) were derived. Average daily activity levels were calculated and then segmented across the day (morning, afternoon and evening). MVPA was log-transformed. Two-level random intercept models were used to analyse associations between activity level and temporal and demographic factors.
Children were active for 67% (mean 568.5 SD 79.5 minutes) of their daily registered time on average, with 88% of active time spent in LPA. All children met current UK guidelines of 180 minutes of daily activity. There were no differences in children’s average daily levels of sedentary activity and LPA by temporal and demographic factors: differences did emerge when activity was segmented across the day. Sex differences were largest in the morning, with girls being more sedentary, spending fewer minutes in LPA and 18% less time in MVPA than boys. Children were more sedentary and less active (LPA and MVPA) in the morning if they attended childcare full-time compared to part-time, and on weekend mornings compared to weekdays. The reverse was true for weekend afternoons and evenings. Children with more educated mothers were less active in the evenings. Children were less sedentary and did more MVPA on summer evenings compared to winter evenings.
Preschool-aged children meet current physical activity guidelines, but with the majority of their active time spent in LPA, investigation of the importance of activity intensity in younger children is needed. Activity levels over the day differed by demographic and temporal factors, highlighting the need to consider temporality in future interventions. Increasing girls’ morning activity and providing opportunities for daytime activity in winter months may be worthwhile.
PMCID: PMC3896827  PMID: 24405936
5.  Fetal and infant growth predict hip geometry at six years old: Findings from the Southampton Women’s Survey 
Pediatric research  2013;74(4):450-456.
We investigated relationships between early growth and proximal femoral geometry at age six years in a prospective population-based cohort, the Southampton Women’s Survey.
In 493 mother-offspring pairs we assessed linear size (individual measure dependent on developmental stage) using high-resolution ultrasound at 11, 19 and 34 weeks gestation (femur length) and at birth, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 years (crown-heel length/height). Standard deviation (SD)-scores were created and conditional regression modelling generated mutually independent growth variables. Children underwent hip DXA (Dual X-ray absorptiometry) at 6 years (Hologic Discovery, Hologic Inc., MA); hip structure analysis software yielded measures of geometry and strength.
There were strong associations between early linear growth and femoral neck section modulus (Z) at 6 years, with the strongest relationships observed for femur growth from 19-34 weeks gestation (β=0.26 cm3/SD, p<0.0001), and for height growth from birth to 1 year (β=0.25 cm3/SD, p<0.0001) and 1-2 years (β=0.33 cm3/SD, p<0.0001), with progressively weaker relationships over years 3 (β=0.23 cm3/SD, p=0.0002) and 4 (β=0.10 cm3/SD, p=0.18).
These results demonstrate that growth before age 3 years predicts proximal femoral geometry at six years old. The data suggest critical periods in which there is capacity for long term influence on the later skeletal growth trajectory.
PMCID: PMC3797011  PMID: 23857297
6.  Different Indices of Fetal Growth Predict Bone Size and Volumetric Density at 4 Years of Age 
We have demonstrated previously that higher birth weight is associated with greater peak and later-life bone mineral content and that maternal body build, diet, and lifestyle influence prenatal bone mineral accrual. To examine prenatal influences on bone health further, we related ultrasound measures of fetal growth to childhood bone size and density. We derived Z-scores for fetal femur length and abdominal circumference and conditional growth velocity from 19 to 34 weeks’ gestation from ultrasound measurements in participants in the Southampton Women’s Survey. A total of 380 of the offspring underwent dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) at age 4 years [whole body minus head bone area (BA), bone mineral content (BMC), areal bone mineral density (aBMD), and estimated volumetric BMD (vBMD)]. Volumetric bone mineral density was estimated using BMC adjusted for BA, height, and weight. A higher velocity of 19- to 34-week fetal femur growth was strongly associated with greater childhood skeletal size (BA: r = 0.30, p < .0001) but not with volumetric density (vBMD: r = 0.03, p = .51). Conversely, a higher velocity of 19- to 34-week fetal abdominal growth was associated with greater childhood volumetric density (vBMD: r = 0.15, p = .004) but not with skeletal size (BA: r = 0.06, p = .21). Both fetal measurements were positively associated with BMC and aBMD, indices influenced by both size and density. The velocity of fetal femur length growth from 19 to 34 weeks’ gestation predicted childhood skeletal size at age 4 years, whereas the velocity of abdominal growth (a measure of liver volume and adiposity) predicted volumetric density. These results suggest a discordance between influences on skeletal size and volumetric density.
PMCID: PMC3793299  PMID: 20437610
7.  Maternal awareness of young children’s physical activity: levels and cross-sectional correlates of overestimation 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:924.
Factors associated with parental awareness of children’s physical activity (PA) levels have not been explored in preschool-aged children. This paper investigates maternal awareness of preschool-aged children’s PA levels and determined correlates associated with maternal overestimation of PA.
Data from the Southampton Women’s Survey, a UK population-based study, were collected March 2006 through June 2009. Daily minutes of moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) were derived using accelerometry in 478 4-year-old children. Mothers who were realistic or overestimated their child’s PA were identified. Log-binomial regression was used to analyse correlates of maternal overestimation of PA levels in children whose mothers perceived them to be active (n = 438).
40.8% of children were classified as inactive: 89.7% of these were perceived to be active by their mothers (over-estimators). These mothers were more likely to think their child sometimes lacked skills required to be physically active (RR (95% CI) = 1.29(1.03-1.63)) and their child was more likely to attend nursery full-time (RR = 1.53(1.14-2.04)). They were less likely to have older children at home (RR = 0.71(0.56-0.90)).
Almost 90% of mothers of inactive preschool-aged children perceive their child to be active. Nursery-school attendance and having older siblings at home may be important to consider when designing behavioural interventions to increase PA in preschool children.
PMCID: PMC3852941  PMID: 24090173
Physical activity; Awareness; Preschool children
Thorax  2013;68(4):372-379.
Obesity and asthma have increased in westernised countries. Maternal obesity may increase childhood asthma risk. If this relation is causal it may be mediated through factors associated with maternal adiposity, such as fetal development, pregnancy complications or infant adiposity. We investigated the relationships of maternal BMI and fat mass with childhood wheeze and examined the influences of infant weight gain and childhood obesity.
Maternal pre-pregnancy BMI and estimated fat mass (from skinfold thicknesses) were related to asthma, wheeze and atopy in 940 children. Transient or persistent/late wheeze was classified using questionnaire data collected at ages 6, 12, 24 and 36 months and 6 years. At 6 years, skin prick testing was conducted and exhaled nitric oxide and spirometry measured. Infant adiposity gain was calculated from skinfold thickness at birth and 6 months.
Greater maternal BMI and fat mass were associated with increased childhood wheeze (RR 1.08 per 5 kg m−2, p=0.006; RR 1.09 per 10 kg, p=0.003); these reflected associations with transient wheeze (RR 1.11, p=0.003; RR 1.13, p=0.002, respectively) but not with persistent wheeze or asthma. Infant adiposity gain was associated with persistent wheeze but not significantly. Adjusting for infant adiposity gain or BMI at 3 or 6 years did not reduce the association between maternal adiposity and transient wheeze. Maternal adiposity was not associated with offspring atopy, exhaled nitric oxide, or spirometry.
Greater maternal adiposity is associated with transient wheeze but not asthma or atopy, suggesting effects upon airway structure/function but not allergic predisposition.
PMCID: PMC3661999  PMID: 23291350
adiposity; body mass index; obesity; asthma; allergic sensitisation
9.  Physical activity intensity, sedentary time, and body composition in preschoolers123 
Detailed associations between physical activity (PA) subcomponents, sedentary time, and body composition in preschoolers remain unclear.
We examined the magnitude of associations between objectively measured PA subcomponents and sedentary time with body composition in 4-y-old children.
We conducted a cross-sectional study in 398 preschool children recruited from the Southampton Women’s Survey. PA was measured by using accelerometry, and body composition was measured by using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Associations between light physical activity, moderate physical activity (MPA), vigorous physical activity (VPA), and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) intensity; sedentary time; and body composition were analyzed by using repeated-measures linear regression with adjustment for age, sex, birth weight, maternal education, maternal BMI, smoking during pregnancy, and sleep duration. Sedentary time and PA were also mutually adjusted for one another to determine whether they were independently related to adiposity.
VPA was the only intensity of PA to exhibit strong inverse associations with both total adiposity [P < 0.001 for percentage of body fat and fat mass index (FMI)] and abdominal adiposity (P = 0.002 for trunk FMI). MVPA was inversely associated with total adiposity (P = 0.018 for percentage of body fat; P = 0.022 for FMI) but only because of the contribution of VPA, because MPA was unrelated to fatness (P ≥ 0.077). No associations were shown between the time spent sedentary and body composition (P ≥ 0.11).
In preschoolers, the time spent in VPA is strongly and independently associated with lower adiposity. In contrast, the time spent sedentary and in low-to-moderate–intensity PA was unrelated to adiposity. These results indicate that efforts to challenge pediatric obesity may benefit from prioritizing VPA.
PMCID: PMC3785144  PMID: 23553158
11.  Maternal late-pregnancy serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D in relation to childhood wheeze and atopic outcomes 
Thorax  2012;67(11):950-956.
Studies exploring the relationship between prenatal vitamin D exposure and childhood asthma have yielded conflicting results. Higher vitamin D intake during pregnancy has been shown to lower the risk of childhood wheeze, yet a study of maternal late-pregnancy serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D suggested higher serum concentrations may be associated with increased childhood asthma.
To assess the relationship between mothers’ serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D status and asthma and wheeze phenotypes in their children at age 6 years. Secondly, to explore the relationship between maternal 25-hydroxyvitamin D status and objective measures of childhood atopy and lung function.
Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D was measured at 34 weeks’ gestation in the mothers of 860 children born at term. Wheeze was classified as either transient or persistent/late using questionnaire data collated from 6, 12, 24 and 36 months and 6 years. At 6 years spirometry was performed and atopic status was determined by skin prick testing, exhaled nitric oxide was measured in 451 and bronchial hyperresponsiveness in 216 children.
There were no significant associations between maternal late-pregnancy 25-hydroxyvitamin D status and either asthma or wheeze at age 6 years. Maternal vitamin D status was not associated with transient or persistent/late wheeze; no significant association was found between persistent/late wheeze when subdivided according to atopic status. No associations were found with skin sensitisation or lung function.
This study provides no evidence that exposure to higher concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in maternal serum during late pregnancy increases the risk of childhood asthma, wheeze or atopy.
PMCID: PMC3679514  PMID: 22707522
asthma epidemiology; asthma; paediatric asthma
12.  Postpartum depressive symptoms: the B-vitamin link 
Objective This study examined longitudinal relationships between maternal red-cell folate status and dietary intakes of vitamins B6, B12 and folate before and during pregnancy and subsequent postpartum depressive symptoms.
Study design and setting Within a cohort study of women aged 20–34 years (the Southampton Women's Survey) dietary data were obtained before pregnancy and at 11 and 34 weeks' gestation. Red-cell folate was measured before pregnancy and at 11 weeks' gestation. We derived relative risks of postpartum depressive symptoms using an Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) score of ≥ 13 administered from 6 months to 1 year postpartum.
Results No significant differences were found between those with postpartum depressive symptoms (n = 905) and those without (n = 1951) in relation to red-cell folate concentration or dietary intake of folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, before or during pregnancy. A prior history of mental illness (relative risk (RR) 1.83; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.53–2.19) was associated with postpartum depressive symptoms, and women who breastfed until 6 months were less likely to experience postpartum depressive symptoms (RR 0.68; 95% CI 0.55–0.84).
Conclusion This study suggests that folate status and dietary folate, B6 and B12 intakes before and during pregnancy are not associated with postpartum depressive symptoms. A history of mental illness, however, was a strong risk factor.
PMCID: PMC3487611  PMID: 23277793
B-vitamin intake; folate status; postpartum depression
13.  Epigenetic gene promoter methylation at birth is associated with child’s later adiposity 
Diabetes  2011;60(5):1528-1534.
Fixed genomic variation explains only a small proportion of the risk of adiposity. In animal models, maternal diet alters offspring body composition, accompanied by epigenetic changes in metabolic control genes. Little is known about whether such processes operate in humans.
Research Design and Methods
Using Sequenom MassARRAY we measured the methylation status of 68 CpGs 5′ from five candidate genes in umbilical cord tissue DNA from healthy neonates. Methylation varied greatly at particular CpGs: for 31 CpGs with median methylation ≥5% and a 5-95% range ≥10% we related methylation status to maternal pregnancy diet and to child’s adiposity at age 9 years. Replication was sought in a second independent cohort.
In cohort 1, RXRA chr9:136355885+ and eNOS chr7:150315553+ methylation had independent associations with sex-adjusted childhood fat mass (exponentiated regression coefficient (β) 17% per standard deviation change in methylation (95% confidence interval (CI) 4 to 31%), P=0.009, n=64 and β=20% (9 to 32%), P<0.001, n=66, respectively) and %fat mass (β=10% (1 to 19%), P=0.023, n=64 and β=12% (4 to 20%), P=0.002, n=66, respectively). Regression analyses including sex and neonatal epigenetic marks explained >25% of the variance in childhood adiposity. Higher methylation of RXRA chr9:136355885+, but not of eNOS chr7:150315553+, was associated with lower maternal carbohydrate intake in early pregnancy, previously linked with higher neonatal adiposity in this population. In cohort 2, cord eNOS chr7:150315553+ methylation showed no association with adiposity, but RXRA chr9:136355885+ methylation showed similar associations with fat mass and %fat mass (β=6% (2 to 10%) and β=4% (1 to 7%), respectively, both P=0.002, n=239).
Our findings suggest a substantial component of metabolic disease risk has a prenatal developmental basis. Perinatal epigenetic analysis may have utility in identifying individual vulnerability to later obesity and metabolic disease.
PMCID: PMC3115550  PMID: 21471513
14.  Dietary patterns change little from before to during pregnancy1 
The Journal of nutrition  2009;139(10):1956-1963.
Principal component analysis is a popular method of dietary patterns analysis, but our understanding of its use to describe changes in dietary patterns over time is limited. We assessed the diets of 12,572 non-pregnant women aged 20-34 from Southampton, UK using a food frequency questionnaire, of whom 2,270 and 2,649 became pregnant and provided complete dietary data in early and late pregnancy respectively. Intakes of white bread, breakfast cereals, cakes and biscuits, processed meat, crisps, fruit and fruit juices, sweet spreads, confectionery, hot chocolate drinks, puddings, cream, milk, cheese, full-fat spread, cooking fats and salad oils, red meat and soft drinks increased in pregnancy. Intakes of rice and pasta, liver and kidney, vegetables, nuts, diet cola, tea and coffee, boiled potatoes and crackers decreased in pregnancy. Principal component analysis at each time point produced two consistent dietary patterns, labeled ‘prudent’ and ‘high-energy’. At each time point in pregnancy, and for both the prudent and high-energy patterns, we derived two dietary pattern scores for each woman: a ‘natural’ score, based on the pattern defined at that time point, and an ‘applied’ score, based on the pattern defined before pregnancy. Applied scores are preferred to natural scores to characterize changes in dietary patterns over time because the scale of measurement remains constant. Using applied scores there was a very small mean decrease in prudent diet score in pregnancy, and a very small mean increase in high-energy diet score in late pregnancy, indicating little overall change in dietary patterns in pregnancy.
PMCID: PMC3113465  PMID: 19710161
Diet; Dietary patterns; Pregnancy; Principal component analysis
15.  Weight gain in pregnancy and childhood body composition: findings from the Southampton Women’s Survey 
Intrauterine life may be a critical period for the programming of later obesity, but there is conflicting evidence about whether pregnancy weight gain is an important determinant of offspring adiposity.
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship of pregnancy weight gain with neonatal and childhood body composition.
The participants (n=948) were children born to women in the Southampton Women’s Survey who had dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry measurements of body composition at birth, 4 or 6 years. Pregnancy weight gain was derived from the mothers’ measured weights before pregnancy and at 34 weeks gestation, analyzed using 2009 Institute of Medicine (IOM) categories (inadequate, adequate or excessive), and as a continuous measure.
Almost half (49%) the children were born to women who gained excessive weight in pregnancy. In comparison with children born to women with adequate weight gain, they had a greater fat mass in the neonatal period (0.17 SD (95% CI 0.02, 0.32), P=0.03), at 4 years (0.17 SD (0.00, 0.34), P=0.05) and at 6 years (0.30 SD (0.11, 0.49), P=0.002). Greater pregnancy weight gain, as a continuous measure, was associated with greater neonatal fat mass (0.10 SD per 5kg weight gain (0.04, 0.15), P=0.0004) and, weakly, with fat mass at 6 years (0.07 SD per 5kg (0.00, 0.14), P=0.05), but not at 4 years (0.02 SD per 5kg (−0.04, 0.08), P=0.55).
Appropriate pregnancy weight gain, as defined by 2009 IOM recommendations, is linked to lower levels of adiposity in the offspring.
PMCID: PMC3091013  PMID: 20375187
16.  Do women change their health behaviours in pregnancy? Findings from the Southampton Women’s Survey 
A woman’s lifestyle choices before and during pregnancy have important implications for her unborn child, but information on behaviour can be unreliable when data are collected retrospectively. In particular there are no large longitudinal datasets that include information collected prospectively before pregnancy to allow accurate description of changes in behaviour into pregnancy.
The Southampton Women’s Survey is a longitudinal study of women in Southampton, UK, characterised when they were not pregnant and again during pregnancy. The objective of the analyses presented here is to describe the degree to which women comply with diet and lifestyle recommendations before and during pregnancy, and changes between these time points.
The analyses are based on 1490 women who delivered between 1998 and 2003 and who provided information before pregnancy and at 11 and 34 weeks gestation. At each time point a trained research nurse ascertained smoking status and assessed food and drink consumption using a food frequency questionnaire. We derived the proportions of women who complied with recommendations not to smoke, to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day and to drink no more than four units of alcohol per week and 300mg of caffeine per day.
There was a notable reduction in smoking when women became pregnant; before pregnancy 27% of women smoked, whereas in early pregnancy 15% smoked. Similarly there were significant reductions in alcohol consumption and intake of caffeinated drinks; before pregnancy 54% of women drank more than 4 units of alcohol per week and 39% had estimated intakes of caffeine in drinks of more than 300mg per day, whereas comparable figures for early pregnancy were 10% and 16% respectively. However, there was little change in fruit and vegetable intake; the percentages of women who did not achieve the recommendation to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per week were 47% before pregnancy and 46% in early pregnancy. Younger women and those with fewer educational qualifications were less likely to comply with public health recommendations. 81% of women in early pregnancy complied with at least three of the recommendations. Although there is encouraging evidence of changed health behaviours in pregnancy, young women and those with few educational qualifications may particularly benefit from targeted health initiatives.
PMCID: PMC3091015  PMID: 19689495
Pregnancy; smoking; alcohol drinking; fruit and vegetables; caffeinated drinks
17.  Development of a 20-item food frequency questionnaire to assess a ‘prudent’ dietary pattern amongst young women in Southampton 
To develop a short food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) that can be used amongst young women in Southampton to assess compliance with a prudent dietary pattern characterised by high consumption of wholemeal bread, fruit and vegetables, and low consumption of sugar, white bread, and red and processed meat.
Diet was assessed using a 100-item interviewer-administered FFQ in 6,129 non-pregnant women aged 20-34 years. 94 of these women were re-interviewed two years later using the same FFQ. Subsequently diet was assessed in 378 women attending SureStart Children’s Centres in the Nutrition and Well-being Study using a 20-item FFQ. The 20 foods included were those that characterised the prudent dietary pattern.
The 20-item prudent diet score was highly correlated with the full 100-item score (r=0.94) in the Southampton Women’s Survey. Both scores were correlated with red blood cell folate (r=0.28 for the 100-item score and r=0.25 for the 20-item score). Amongst the women re-interviewed after two years, the change in prudent diet score was correlated with change in red cell folate for both the 20-item (rS=0.31) and 100-item scores (rS=0.32). In the Nutrition and Well-being Study a strong association between the 20-item prudent diet score and educational attainment (r=0.41) was observed, similar to that seen in the Southampton Women’s Survey (r=0.47).
The prudent diet pattern describes a robust axis of variation in diet. A 20-item FFQ based on the foods that characterise the prudent diet pattern has clear advantages in terms of time and resources, and is a helpful tool to characterise the diets of young women in Southampton.
PMCID: PMC3091018  PMID: 19756032
Food frequency questionnaire; Principal component analysis
18.  Validation of a maternal questionnaire on correlates of physical activity in preschool children 
Valid measures of physical activity correlates in preschool children are lacking. This study aimed to assess the validity, factor structure and internal consistency of a maternal questionnaire on potential correlates of four-year-old children's physical activity.
The questionnaire was designed to measure the following constructs: child personal factors; parental support and self-efficacy for providing support; parental rules and restrictions; maternal attitudes and perceptions; maternal behaviour; barriers to physical activity; and the home and local environments. Two separate studies were conducted. Study I included 24 mothers of four-year-old children who completed the questionnaire then participated in a telephone interview covering similar items to the questionnaire. To assess validity, the agreement between interview and questionnaire responses was assessed using Cohen's kappa and percentage agreement. Study II involved 398 mothers of four-year-old children participating in the Southampton Women's Survey. In this study, principal components analysis was used to explore the factor structure of the questionnaire to aid future analyses with these data. The internal consistency of the factors identified was assessed using Cronbach's alpha.
Kappa scores showed 30% of items to have moderate agreement or above, 23% to have fair agreement and 47% to have slight or poor agreement. However, 89% of items had fair agreement as assessed by percentage agreement (≥ 66%). Limited variation in responses to variables is likely to have contributed to some of the low kappa values. Six questions had a low kappa and low percentage agreement (defined as poor validity); these included questions from the child personal factors, maternal self-efficacy, rules and restrictions, and local environment domains. The principal components analysis identified eleven factors and found several variables to stand alone. Eight of the composite factors identified had acceptable internal consistency (α ≥ 0.60) and three fell just short of achieving this (0.60 > α > 0.50).
Overall, this maternal questionnaire had reasonable validity and internal consistency for assessing potential correlates of physical activity in young children. With minor revision, this could be a useful tool for future research in this area. This, in turn, will aid the development of interventions to promote physical activity in this age group.
PMCID: PMC2791748  PMID: 19954524
19.  Dietary patterns in infancy and cognitive and neuropsychological function in childhood 
Trials in developing countries suggest that improving young children's diet may benefit cognitive development. Whether dietary composition influences young children's cognition in developed countries is unclear. Although many studies have examined the relation between type of milk received in infancy and subsequent cognition, there has been no investigation of the possible effect of variations in the weaning diet.
We studied 241 children aged 4 years, whose diet had been assessed at age 6 and 12 months. We measured IQ with the Wechsler Pre-School and Primary Scale of Intelligence, visual attention, visuomotor precision, sentence repetition and verbal fluency with the Developmental Neuropsychological Assessment (NEPSY), and visual form-constancy with the Test of Visual Perceptual Skills.
In sex-adjusted analyses, children whose diet in infancy was characterised by high consumption of fruit, vegetables and home-prepared foods (‘infant guidelines’ dietary pattern) had higher full-scale and verbal IQ and better memory performance at age 4 years. Further adjustment for maternal education, intelligence, social class, quality of the home environment and other potential confounding factors, attenuated these associations but the relations between higher ‘infant guidelines’ diet score and full-scale and verbal IQ remained significant. For a standard deviation increase in ‘infant guidelines’ diet score at 6 or 12 months full scale IQ rose by 0.18 (95% CI 0.04 to 0.31) of a standard deviation. For a standard deviation increase in ‘infant guidelines’ diet score at 6 months verbal IQ rose by 0.14 (0.01 to 0.27) of a standard deviation. There were no associations between dietary patterns in infancy and 4-year performance on the other tests.
These findings suggest that dietary patterns in early life may have some effect on cognitive development. It is also possible that they reflect the influence of unmeasured confounding factors.
PMCID: PMC2698009  PMID: 19236526
20.  Women’s compliance with nutrition and lifestyle recommendations before pregnancy: general population cohort study 
Objective To examine the extent to which women planning a pregnancy comply with recommendations for nutrition and lifestyle.
Design Prospective cohort study.
Setting Southampton, United Kingdom.
Participants 12 445 non-pregnant women aged 20-34 recruited to the Southampton Women’s Survey through general practices, 238 of whom became pregnant within three months of being interviewed.
Main outcome measures Folic acid supplement intake, alcohol consumption, smoking, diet, and physical activity before pregnancy.
Results The 238 women who became pregnant within three months of the interview were only marginally more likely to comply with recommendations for those planning a pregnancy than those who did not become pregnant in this period. Among those who became pregnant, 2.9% (95% confidence interval 1.2% to 6.0%) were taking 400 μg or more of folic acid supplements a day and drinking four or fewer units of alcohol a week, compared with 0.66% (0.52% to 0.82%) of those who did not become pregnant. 74% of those who became pregnant were non-smokers compared with 69% of those who did not become pregnant (P=0.08). Women in both groups were equally likely to consume five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day (53% in each group, P=1.0), but only 57% of those who became pregnant had taken any strenuous exercise in the past three months compared with 64% in those who did not become pregnant (P=0.03).
Conclusion Only a small proportion of women planning a pregnancy follow the recommendations for nutrition and lifestyle. Greater publicity for the recommendations is needed, but as many pregnancies are unplanned, improved nutrition and lifestyles of women of childbearing age is also required.
PMCID: PMC2643441  PMID: 19213768

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