Although they could not explain the link and stated that the phenomenon needed further investigation, researchers found that pregnant women need to consume around 2,500 calories a day. They added that the source of the calories -- whether it be fat, protein or carbohydrate -- was immaterial; the total caloric intake was important.
Researchers used ultrasound to measure the arterial walls of more than 200 9-year-olds whose mothers had participated in a nutrition study during pregnancy. The children whose mothers had taken in fewer calories during pregnancy had thicker arterial walls -- an early symptom of atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart disease and strokes -- even when factors such as social class, smoking, exercise habits and sickness in pregnancy were taken into account.
"Our study provides direct evidence for the first time in humans that the mother's diet in pregnancy might influence the child's susceptibility to atherosclerosis," said researcher Dr. Catharine Gale. "One possibility (for the influence) is that maternal energy intake in pregnancy may affect the child's blood cholesterol concentrations."
"Our advice to pregnant women is that a healthy, balanced diet is essential to give both mother and baby the best chance of a healthier life," said Judy O'Sullivan, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation. "A restricted or low calorie diet should not be followed during pregnancy."
The scientists also found that the children's weight, exercise and blood pressure had a direct effect on the thickness of artery walls.
"This is yet more disturbing evidence," added consumer health advocate Mike Adams, "that health habits are trans-generational. The nutritional habits we follow today are being increasingly shown to impact our children and possibly even their children. Price and Pottenger [from the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation] were right all along."