Women who diet during pregnancy are putting their children at serious health risk, say experts.
Researchers at the University of Southampton used ultrasound scans to measure the artery wall thickness of more than 200 nine-year-old children whose mothers had taken part in a nutrition study during pregnancy, reported the online edition of Daily Mail.
They found that, on an average, the lower the mother's intake during pregnancy, the thicker the artery wall of the child. The link was closely correlated, with mothers eating the fewest calories producing children who had the thickest arteries.
These children, they said, are at greater risk of developing atherosclerosis - the thickening of the artery walls due to fatty deposits - and may as a result suffer from heart attacks and strokes later in life.
The findings were also true regardless of social class, smoking or exercise habits, weight or sickness during pregnancy.
Though experts usually recommend that a pregnant woman needs to eat around 2,500 calories a day, the researchers were unable to determine the optimum number of calories to be eaten per day to prevent the effect.
However, they said, it did not matter what proportion of the calorie intake came from fat, protein or carbohydrate; it was the total calorie intake that was important.