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The Bumps and Bugs (BUB) study

As half of mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, start before the age of 14, identifying factors that might increase risk for these conditions in early life is an urgent need. A healthier diet in early childhood is consistently associated with better brain and emotional health, as well as physical health, outcomes. Existing and growing knowledge from animal and human studies strongly suggests that an infant’s developing gut microbiota (bacteria) play an important role in their immune system development, but also in the development of their brain, and therefore likely influences mental and brain health outcomes later in life.

There is good evidence that short and long-term diet influences an individual’s own gut microbiota, and it stands to reason that, given the transfer of microbes from mother to infant, maternal diet during pregnancy could shape the gut microbiome of her child. Supplementation with specific products targeting the microbiota (e.g. prebiotics and probiotics) during pregnancy can alter both mothers’ and infants’ gut microbiota, suggesting that the diet and/or supplements the mother consumes during pregnancy may play an important role in modifying the health of infants’ gut microbiota

Our pilot Healthy Parents Healthy Kids study evaluated whether a dietary education program could support women to eat healthily during pregnancy, and whether it was practical and feasible. It also assessed the possible effect of the dietary program on aspects of health in pregnant women and their babies, including gut bacteria.

The results showed the program helped pregnant women to increase their overall diet quality, diet variety, and intakes of specific foods that could alter their microbiota; as well as difference in overall bacterial diversity in infants whose mothers received the dietary program, compared to those who did not; and differences in mothers’ bacteria, including the presence of a particular bacterial strain recently associated with better allergic outcomes in children when present in mothers, and better emotional behavioural outcomes in children when present in infancy.

We are now developing a scalable version of HPHK using internet and smartphone technology (mHealth) and a focus group of pregnant women that we hope will ultimately be developed into an accessible dietary education program that will support the health and wellbeing of women and children globally.