Maternal stress during pregnancy and children's diet: Evidence from a population of low socioeconomic status

Nicolai Vitt, Martina Vecchi, Jonathan James, Michele Belot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examined the relationship between maternal exposure to stress during pregnancy and children’s food preferences and diet in a population of low socioeconomic status.

Indices of exposure to stress were constructed based on retrospective self-reported experience of stressful events during pregnancy (e.g., death of close family member, relationship difficulties, legal issues, health issues, financial issues, or other potentially stressful event[s]). Data were collected for >200 mothers of a low socioeconomic status with a child age 2 to 12 y. Data on mothers’ body mass index, current exposure to stress, current diet, and diet during pregnancy were collected at the same time, as well as data on children’s food preferences and current diet as reported by the mothers. Indices of the healthiness of food preferences and diet were constructed and used as outcome variables.

Maternal exposure to stress during pregnancy significantly predicts children’s food and taste preferences, as well as their diet, in regression models controlling for maternal diet, current maternal stress, and demographic characteristics of both the child and mother. Higher average stress during pregnancy is linked with significantly less healthy food preferences and diet, as well as with weaker preferences for sour and bitter foods. This relationship is observed across different age groups.

Maternal exposure to stress during pregnancy could have long-term detrimental effects on dietary outcomes and thereby on health conditions related to diet. Prenatal care and preconception counseling could be critical to develop preventive strategies to improve public health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number111423
Early online date15 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jul 2021

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