The importance of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) intake in fetal life and infancy has been widely studied in relation to child cognitive and visual development, but whether early life PUFA exposure is related to cardiometabolic risk factors is unclear. The focus of this systematic review was to evaluate the effects of PUFA dietary intake and blood levels during pregnancy, lactation, or early childhood (≤5 y) on obesity, blood pressure, blood lipids, and insulin sensitivity. We identified 4302 abstracts in the databases Embase, Medline and Cochrane Central (April 2014), of which 56 articles, reporting on 45 unique studies, met all selection criteria. Many of the included studies focused on obesity as an outcome (33 studies), whereas studies on insulin sensitivity were relatively scarce (6 studies). Overall, results for obesity, blood pressure, and blood lipids were inconsistent, with a few studies reporting effects in opposite directions and other studies that did not observe any effects of PUFAs on these outcomes. Four studies suggested beneficial effects of PUFAs on insulin sensitivity. We conclude that there is insufficient evidence to support a beneficial effect of PUFAs in fetal life or early childhood on obesity, blood pressure, or blood lipids. More research is needed to investigate the potential favorable effects of PUFAs on insulin sensitivity, and to examine the role of specific fatty acids in early life on later cardiometabolic health.

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Progress in Lipid Research
Department of Epidemiology

Voortman, T., van den Hooven, E., Braun, K., van den Broek, M., Bramer, W., Chowdhurry, R., & Franco, O. (2015). Effects of polyunsaturated fatty acid intake and status during pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood on cardiometabolic health: A systematic review. Progress in Lipid Research (Vol. 59, pp. 67–87). doi:10.1016/j.plipres.2015.05.001