Article open access publication

Maternal protein intake in pregnancy and offspring metabolic health at age 9-16 y: results from a Danish cohort of gestational diabetes mellitus pregnancies and controls.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Oxford University Press (OUP), ISSN 0002-9165

Volume 106, 2, 2017

DOI:10.3945/ajcn.115.128637, Dimensions: pub.1090395169, PMC: PMC5525114, PMID: 28679553,



  1. (1) Imperial College London, grid.7445.2
  2. (2) State Serum Institute, grid.6203.7
  3. (3) Danish Diabetes Academy, grid.484078.7
  4. (4) Rigshospitalet, grid.475435.4, Capital Region
  5. (5) University of Copenhagen, grid.5254.6, KU
  6. (6) Technical University of Denmark, grid.5170.3, DTU
  7. (7) Aarhus University, grid.7048.b, AU
  8. (8) National University Hospital of Iceland, grid.410540.4
  9. (9) University of Iceland, grid.14013.37
  10. (10) AstraZeneca (Sweden), grid.418151.8
  11. (11) Boston University, grid.189504.1


Background: Recent years have seen strong tendencies toward high-protein diets. However, the implications of higher protein intake, especially during developmentally sensitive periods, are poorly understood. Conversely, evidence on the long-term developmental consequences of low protein intake in free-living populations remains limited.Objective: We examined the association of protein intake in pregnancy with offspring metabolic health at age 9-16 y in a longitudinal cohort that oversampled pregnancies with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM).Design: Six hundred eight women with an index pregnancy affected by gestational diabetes mellitus and 626 controls enrolled in the Danish National Birth Cohort were used for the analysis. Protein (total, animal, vegetable) intake was assessed by using a food-frequency questionnaire in gestational week 25. The offspring underwent a clinical examination including fasting blood samples and a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan (subset of 650) from which metabolic outcomes were derived. Multivariable analyses were conducted applying a 1:1 substitution of carbohydrates for protein.Results: The mean ± SD protein intake in pregnancy was 93 ± 15 g/d (16% ± 3% of energy) in GDM-exposed women and 90 ± 14 g/d (16% ± 2% of energy) in control women. There were overall no associations between maternal protein intake and offspring fasting insulin and homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR). We found that maternal total protein intake was associated with a tendency for a higher abdominal fat mass percentage (quartile 4 compared with quartile 1: 0.40 SD; 95% CI: -0.03, 0.83 SD; P = 0.07) in GDM-exposed offspring and a tendency for a higher total fat mass percentage among male offspring (quartile 4 compared with quartile 1: 0.33 SD; 95% CI: -0.01, 0.66 SD; P = 0.06), but a small sample size may have compromised the precision of the effect estimates. GDM-exposed offspring of mothers with a protein intake in the lowest decile (≤12.5% of energy compared with >12.5% of energy) had lower fasting insulin (ratio of geometric means: 0.82; 95% CI: 0.68, 0.99; P = 0.04) and a tendency toward lower HOMA-IR (ratio of geometric means: 0.82; 95% CI: 0.66, 1.02; P = 0.07), but there was no evidence of associations with body composition. Male offspring seemed to derive a similar benefit from a maternal low protein intake as did GDM-exposed offspring.Conclusions: Overall, our results provide little support for an association of maternal protein intake in pregnancy with measures of offspring metabolic health. Further studies in larger cohorts are needed to determine whether low maternal protein intake in pregnancy may improve glucose homeostasis in GDM-exposed and male offspring.

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Relative Citation ratio (RCR): 1.7

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