While some research has reported an association between a high consumption of sugar-containing beverages and asthma in children, the relation between maternal sugar intake during pregnancy and allergy and asthma in the offspring has been little studied.
Researchers from University of Bristol and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) in the UK collected data from almost 9,000 mothers who were pregnant in the early 1990s and their offspring.
Allergy was defined as by positive skin tests to common allergens, namely dust mite, cat and grass.
While there was only weak evidence for a link between free sugar intake in pregnancy and asthma overall, there were strong positive associations with allergy and allergic asthma together.
When comparing the 20 per cent of mothers with the highest sugar intake versus the 20 per cent of mothers with the lowest sugar intake, there was an increased risk of 38 per cent for allergy in the offspring (73 per cent for allergy to two or more allergens) and 101 per cent for allergic asthma.
"We cannot say on the basis of these observations that a high intake of sugar by mothers in pregnancy is definitely causing allergy and allergic asthma in their offspring," said Professor Seif Shaheen from QMUL.
However, given the extremely high consumption of sugar in the West, we will certainly be investigating this hypothesis further with some urgency.
The team speculate that the associations may be explained by a high maternal intake of fructose causing a persistent postnatal allergic immune response leading to allergic inflammation in the developing lung.
The researchers controlled for factors like maternal characteristics, social factors and other aspects of maternal diet, including foods and nutrients that have been previously linked to childhood asthma and allergy.
The offspring's free sugar intake in early childhood was found to have no association with the outcomes seen in the analysis.