• asthma;
  • children;
  • fatty acids;
  • maternal diet;
  • pregnancy;
  • cohort study

To cite this article: Lumia M, Luukkainen P, Kaila M, Tapanainen H, Erkkola M, Uusitalo L, Niinistö S, Kenward MG, Ilonen J, Simell O, Knip M, Veijola R, Virtanen SM. Dietary fatty acid composition during pregnancy and the risk of asthma in the offspring. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 2011: 22: 827–835.


Background:  Fatty acids (FA) modulate the immune system, and it has been proposed that they affect the incidence of IgE-mediated allergic diseases. We explored the association of maternal dietary FA composition during pregnancy with the risk of asthma in the offspring.

Methods:  We analyzed data from the Finnish Type 1 Diabetes Prediction and Prevention (DIPP) Nutrition Study. Maternal dietary intake during pregnancy (8th month) was assessed by a validated 181-item food frequency questionnaire. The occurrence of asthma was assessed at the age of 5 yr with a questionnaire modified from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC). Cox proportional hazards regression was used for the statistical analyses.

Results:  Low maternal intakes of α-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) [lowest quarter vs. mid-half HR 1.67 (95% CI 1.12–2.48)] and total n-3-polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) [HR 1.66 (95% CI 1.11–2.48)] during pregnancy were associated with an increased risk of asthma in the offspring, while a low intake of arachidonic acid (20:4n-6) [HR 0.52 (95% CI 0.32–0.84)] and high intake of total saturated fatty acids [highest quarter vs. mid-half HR 0.55 (95% CI 0.34–0.90)] and palmitic acid (16:0) [HR 0.51 (95% CI 0.31–0.83)] were associated with a decreased risk of asthma. The ratios of n-6 to n-3-PUFA and 18:2n-6 to 18:3n-3, and the maternal intake of oils, fish and fish products, showed no association with the risk of asthma. The associations found were independent of several perinatal and clinical confounders.

Conclusion:  Maternal intake of FA during pregnancy was associated with childhood asthma. Maternal α-linolenic acid, total n-3 PUFA and palmitic acid intake may decrease, while arachidonic acid intake may increase the risk of asthma in the offspring.