Early High-Quality Diet Linked to Reduced Inflammatory Bowel Disease Risk, Suggests Long-Term Study

by Ella

A study published in the journal Gut suggests that maintaining a high-quality diet at the age of one may significantly decrease the subsequent risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The research emphasizes the potential protective role of consuming ample fish and vegetables while limiting sugar-sweetened drinks during early childhood.

The findings prompt a discussion on the possibility of recommending a preventive diet for infants, considering the mounting evidence supporting its biological plausibility, as outlined in an editorial linked to the study.


Inflammatory bowel disease, encompassing conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is witnessing a global rise in cases. Although the reasons behind this increase remain unclear, alterations in dietary patterns are believed to contribute, impacting the gut microbiome.


While prior studies have explored the correlation between diet and IBD risk in adults, there is a notable lack of research on the potential influence of early childhood diet on this risk.


To address this gap, researchers utilized data from the All Babies in Southeast Sweden study (ABIS) and The Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). ABIS included 21,700 children born between October 1997 and October 1999, while MoBa comprised 114,500 children, 95,200 mothers, and 75,200 fathers recruited from Norway between 1999 and 2008.


Parents provided information on their children’s diet at 12-18 months and 30-36 months. The analysis incorporated dietary details for 81,280 one-year-olds from both studies. Diet quality was assessed based on the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) scoring system, measuring the intake of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, dairy, sweets, snacks, and drinks.

A higher diet quality, characterized by increased consumption of vegetables, fruit, and fish and reduced intake of meat, sweets, snacks, and drinks, corresponded to a higher HEI score. The results indicated that a medium to high-quality diet at the age of one was associated with a 25% lower overall risk of IBD compared to a low-quality diet, after adjusting for influencing factors.

Furthermore, a high fish intake at age one was linked to a lower overall risk and a 54% reduced risk of ulcerative colitis specifically. Increased vegetable intake at age one also correlated with a lowered risk of IBD. Conversely, the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks was associated with a 42% heightened risk.

By age three, only a high fish intake was connected to a reduced IBD risk, particularly for ulcerative colitis. The associations remained consistent after considering household income, formula intake, and antibiotic use.

While acknowledging the observational nature of the study, the researchers suggest that early-life diet, potentially influencing the gut microbiome, may impact the risk of developing IBD. However, they caution that the study’s findings may not be universally applicable to lower- or middle-income countries with different dietary habits.

In a linked editorial, Dr. Ashwin Ananthakrishnan of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA, notes limitations in the study’s ability to capture elements like additives and emulsifiers common in baby food. Despite these challenges, he suggests that recommending a preventive diet, incorporating dietary patterns associated with lower IBD risk, could be a reasonable approach, providing broader health benefits.

The study underscores the need for further research into the intricate relationship between early-life dietary choices and the long-term risk of inflammatory bowel disease.



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