Chips in pregnancy linked to low birth-weight babies

Pregnant women who eat large amounts of hot chips, crisps and biscuits may be harming their unborn baby as much as if they smoked, according to a new study.

Pregnant women who consume large amounts of hot chips, crisps and biscuits may be harming their unborn baby as much as if they smoked, according to a new European study.

Mums-to-be who have a high intake of a potentially toxic chemical called acrylamide – found in commonly-eaten starchy foods and coffee – are more likely to have babies with a lower than average birth weight and a smaller head circumference.

Head size at birth has been shown to relate to a baby’s neurodevelopment, with smaller circumferences associated with developmental delays. Those babies exposed to more acrylamide had head circumferences that were an average of 0.33cm smaller.

The study, led by the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiolgoy (CREAL) in Barcelona, also found that babies born to mothers with a high dietary intake of acrylamide were up to 132g lighter than babies born to mothers who had a low intake.

Lower birth weights have been linked with a number of adverse health effects in early childhood and later life, such as smaller stature, increased incidence of heart disease, diabetes and osteoperosis.

According to Professor John Wright, from the Bradford Institute for Health Research (a partner in the study), “The effect of acrylamide is comparable with the well-known adverse effect of smoking on birth weight.”

Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in starchy foods during high-temperature cooking (such as baking and frying). It’s been detected in a range of home-cooked and processed foods, including hot chips, potato crisps, sweet biscuits and wheat biscuit-style breakfast cereals.

Researchers examined the diets of more than 1000 pregnant women between 2006 and 2010 in Denmark, England, Greece, Norway and Spain.

The CREAL-led study was conducted across 20 research centres in Europe, including the ‘Born in Bradford’ research programme, which looked at 14,000 children born in the Yorkshire town.

“We found that these [Born in Bradford] babies had the highest levels of acrylamide and almost twice the level of Danish babies,” said CREAL researcher and lead author Dr Marie Pedersen. “When we investigated their diet it was clear that the largest source of dietary acrylamide is from chips.”

Dr Pederson asserted that the public-health implications of the findings in this study were substantial.

Acrylamide has been found to cause cancer in animals, and while there is no direct evidence it would do so in humans, the adverse effect on the health of newborns has led the study’s authors to advise pregnant women to go easy on the chips and other foods high in acrylamide.

The researchers further recommended that food manufacturers to look at ways to reduce levels of acrylamide occurring in their products.

Would this research make you reconsider eating foods like chips? Leave your comments below.

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