Sugary Drinks During Pregnancy May Increase Kids' Asthma Risk

Children between the ages of 7 and 9 may be at greater risk of developing asthma if they consumed high amounts of fructose in early childhood or their mothers drank a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages while pregnant, according to new research published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

In "Prenatal and Early-life Fructose, Fructose-containing Beverages, and Mid-Childhood Asthma," researchers report on 1,068 mother-child pairs participating in Project Viva, a longitudinal study based in Eastern Massachusetts designed to find ways to improve the health of mothers and their children.

"Previous studies have linked intake of high fructose corn syrup-sweetened beverages with asthma in school children, but there is little information about when during early development exposure to fructose might influence later health," says Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, MPH, a study lead author and senior research associate at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute.

After their first and second trimesters, mothers who participated in the study completed questionnaires about their food and beverage consumption, including regular soda and fruit drinks. When their children reached early childhood (3.3 years), the mothers completed another questionnaire to report their children's consumption of a variety of foods and beverages, including regular sodas and fruit drinks. Based on these responses, the researchers computed fructose intake and analyzed results based on quartiles of sugar-sweetened beverage and fructose consumption.

The authors wrote that it was important to look at fructose consumption because it's a major contributor to total sugar intake and may have specific airway effects.

A mother reporting a doctor's diagnosis of asthma, plus wheezing or asthma medication use in the past year determined asthma in midchildhood.

The study found the following:

• In midchildhood, 19% of the children had asthma.
• Mothers in the highest quartile of sugar-sweetened beverage and fructose consumption during pregnancy were 63% and 61% more likely, respectively, than those in the lowest quartile to have midchildhood-age kids with asthma, when adjusted for prepregnancy body mass, age, race/ethnicity, and other factors that may have affected results.
• Kids in the highest quartile of fructose consumption during their early childhoods were 64% more likely than those in the lowest quartile to have asthma in midchildhood, when adjusted for maternal sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.

The authors note that other studies have found links between obesity and asthma and between sugar-sweetened beverages and high fructose intake and increased asthma risk.

Study limitations include the fact that an observational study can't show cause and effect, and study participants mostly were from more affluent families so findings may not be generalizable to socioeconomically disadvantaged families.

Still, according to Rifas-Shiman, "Avoiding high intake of sugary beverages during pregnancy and in early childhood could be one of several ways to reduce the risk of childhood asthma."

— Source: American Thoracic Society