Conducted by the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) in Barcelona, Spain, and Stockholm University in Stockholm, Sweden, the study implicates a diet that includes frequent consumption of potato chips and french fries in babies' with lower birth weight and smaller head circumference—health effects comparable to smoking during pregnancy.
In the press release issued today, CREAL states:
Intake of foods high in acrylamide during pregnancy is associated with lower birth weight and smaller head circumference. This was revealed in an international study of the diet of 1,100 pregnant women and newborns from Denmark, England, Greece, Norway and Spain. The difference between mothers exposed to high levels of acrylamide and those exposed to low levels may be up to 132 grams in the baby’s weight and 0.33 centimetres in the size of the baby's head.
(For those of you who are as metrically challenged as I am, that's approximately 4.5 ounces difference in birth weight and 1/10th of an inch).
A result of cooking starchy foods at high temperatures (including both frying and baking), acrylamide is a chemical that's found in french fries, potato chips, and even prunes, black olives, cocoa powder and coffee. Discovered and studied since 2002, acrylamide in mega-doses has been shown to cause cancer tumors in rats.
Prompted by the health risks of consuming acrylamide and the fact that acrylamide is is known to cross the placenta, the organizers of this study had particular concern for the understanding the health risks of acrylamide consumption to the unborn child.
The study was the first of its kind: there has never before been a human study of acrylamide and the effect of its exposure during pregnancy. The associations offer sobering food for thought about your pregnancy diet. According to the study coordinator, Professor Manolis Kogevinas:
"The estimated effect of high-level exposure to acrylamide is comparable to the well-known adverse effect of smoking on birth weight.”
Dr. Marie Pedersen, a CREAL researcher and lead author of the study also wrote:
"The public-health implications of the findings in this study are substantial. Reduced birth weight, in particular low birth weight, has been shown to be related to numerous adverse health effects early or later in life such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Furthermore, reduced birth head circumference has been associated with delayed neurodevelopment."
Study authors stress that pregnant women should avoid or cut back on fried food during pregnancy.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you were already avoiding fried food anyway, right? In addition to being high in fat and low on nutritional value, fried food is often a culprit in heartburn during pregnancy.
This is just another reason to pass up those fries and chips.