Osteoporosis International

, Volume 23, Issue 9, pp 2359–2367 | Cite as

Does maternal long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid status in pregnancy influence the bone health of children?

The Southampton Women’s Survey
  • N. Harvey
  • D. Dhanwal
  • S. Robinson
  • M. Kim
  • H. Inskip
  • K. Godfrey
  • E. Dennison
  • P. Calder
  • C. CooperEmail author
  • SWS Study Group
Original Article



In this large, population-based, prospective, mother–offspring cohort study, maternal long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA) status during pregnancy was found to be positively associated with bone mass in the offspring at age 4 years. The findings suggest that variation in intrauterine exposure to n-3 and n-6 LCPUFAs may have potential consequences for skeletal development.


Maternal diet in pregnancy has been linked to childhood bone mass, but the mechanisms and nutrients involved are uncertain. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) have been shown to affect bone metabolism, but the relationship between maternal fatty acid status and bone mass in the offspring remains unknown.


We evaluated the association between maternal LCPUFA status in late pregnancy (34 weeks gestation) and bone density in their children at age 4 years within 727 mother–child pairs taking part in the Southampton Women’s Survey.


Concentrations of the n-3 LCPUFA component of maternal plasma phosphatidylcholine were positively associated with a number of bone mineral measures at the age of 4 years; these associations persisted after adjustment for maternal body build, walking speed and infant feeding. Relationships were most evident for eicosapentaenoic acid (r = 0.09, p = 0.02 for whole body areal bone mineral density [aBMD] and r = 0.1, p = 0.008 for lumbar spine aBMD) and for docosapentaenoic acid (r = 0.09, p = 0.02 for whole body aBMD and r = 0.12, p = 0.002 for lumbar spine aBMD).


These findings suggest that variation in early exposure to n-3 and n-6 LCPUFA may have potential consequences for bone development and that the effects appear to persist into early childhood.


Bone mass Development Epidemiology Nutrition Osteoporosis 



We thank the mothers who gave us their time and the team of dedicated research nurses and ancillary staff for their assistance. This work was supported by grants from the Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, Arthritis Research UK, National Osteoporosis Society, International Osteoporosis Foundation, Cohen Trust, The Food Standards Agency, Southampton NIHR Biomedical Research Unit in Nutrition, Diet & Lifestyle, University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, and NIHR Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit, University of Oxford. Participants were drawn from a cohort study funded by the Medical Research Council and the Dunhill Medical Trust. We thank Mr Christian Gelauf for performing the fatty acid analysis and Mrs G Strange and Mrs R Fifield for helping prepare the manuscript.

Conflicts of interest

KMG has acted as a consultant to Abbott Nutrition and Nestle Nutrition and has received reimbursement for speaking at an Abbott Nutrition Conference on Pregnancy Nutrition and Later Health Outcomes and at a Nestle Nutrition Institute Workshop. KMG, CC and NCH are part of an academic consortium that has received research funding from Abbott Nutrition, Nestec and Danone.


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Copyright information

© International Osteoporosis Foundation and National Osteoporosis Foundation 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. Harvey
    • 1
  • D. Dhanwal
    • 1
  • S. Robinson
    • 1
  • M. Kim
    • 1
  • H. Inskip
    • 1
  • K. Godfrey
    • 1
    • 2
  • E. Dennison
    • 1
  • P. Calder
    • 2
    • 3
  • C. Cooper
    • 1
    Email author
  • SWS Study Group
  1. 1.MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology UnitUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK
  2. 2.Southampton NIHR Biomedical Research Unit in Nutrition, Diet & LifestyleUniversity of Southampton School of Medicine and University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foudation TrustSouthamptonUK
  3. 3.Human Development and Health Academic Unit, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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