Pregnant teens' dairy intake affects fetal bones

May 14, 2003 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Pregnant teens' dairy intake affects fetal bones

Pregnant African-American teenagers who don't get enough dairy products in their diet may hinder their babies' early bone development, a new study suggests.

Baltimore researchers found that fetal bone growth appeared to be poorer in pregnant teens who consumed fewer than two servings of dairy products a day, compared with those who took in more than three daily servings.

Many teens don't have enough calcium, crucial for bone health, in their diets to begin with. When a girl becomes pregnant, she and the fetus may end up competing over the calcium that's available.

The researchers studied 350 African-American girls age 17 or younger who received prenatal care between 1990 and 2000 at a Baltimore clinic. The teens' diets were scrutinized by a dietitian who estimated their calcium intake based on their daily servings of dairy products.

The teens were also given a sonogram 20 to 34 weeks into their pregnancies to gauge the length of the fetal femur, the longest bone in the body, as well as other markers of fetal development. The results showed, not surprisingly, that the majority of girls failed to meet the recommended daily calcium intake of 1,300 milligrams for all adolescents.

What's more, fetal femur length was shorter among teens with the lowest dairy intake -- fewer than two servings a day -- than among girls who consumed at least three servings of dairy each day.

The researchers also found that the teens who had a higher diary intake tended to have a better diet overall, with higher amounts of protein, vitamin A and iron -- though none of these other nutrients was found to be associated with a change in fetal femur length.

They did not follow the teens to see if the difference in femur length persisted at birth and beyond.

However, previous research has found that fetal development is related to long-term health. The supply of nutrients might have consequences on chronic diseases later in life.

In addition, teen mothers with inadequate dietary calcium could have problems with their own long-term bone health.

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