(HealthDay News) — An unhealthy diet during pregnancy could influence a child’s risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a study published online Aug. 18 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Edward Barker, Ph.D., director of the developmental psychopathology lab at King’s College London, and colleagues compared 83 British children aged 7 to 13 with conduct problems against 81 children with few conduct issues. During pregnancy, the children’s mothers filled out a questionnaire regarding their diet. Using blood samples taken either from the children’s umbilical cord at birth or from the child at age 7, the authors assessed whether the insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) gene in the children had experienced DNA methylation.

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The researchers found that poor prenatal nutrition was associated with higher IGF2 methylation in children with conduct problems. Diets that included lots of processed foods and baked sweets particularly appeared to affect the function of IGF2, Barker told HealthDay. Higher IGF2 methylation also was associated with increased ADHD symptoms, but only for children with conduct problems.

“DNA methylation can influence how a person’s genetic make-up might affect their development, in response to risk exposures, including poor nutrition,” Barker said. “These results suggest that promoting a healthy prenatal diet may ultimately lower ADHD symptoms and conduct problems in children.”

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