CHILDREN are likely to have stronger muscles if their mothers had a higher level of vitamin D in their body during pregnancy, according to Southampton researchers.

The study of hundreds of mums found that, by the age of four, children’s grip strength and muscle mass were seen to increase with higher levels of the vitamin in the pregnant mother.

It was carried out by the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU) at the University of Southampton.

A university spokesman said low vitamin D status has been linked to reduced muscle strength in adults and children, but little was known about how variation in a mother’s status during pregnancy affected her child.

He said low vitamin D concentrations are common among young women in the UK and, although women are recommended to take an additional 10g per day of vitamin D in pregnancy, supplementation is often not taken up.

Senior lecturer Dr Nicholas Harvey said: “These associations may well have consequences for later health. Muscle strength peaks in young adulthood before declining in older age and low grip strength in adulthood has been associated with poor health outcomes including diabetes, falls and fractures.

It is likely that the greater muscle strength observed at four years of age in children born to mothers with higher vitamin D levels will track into adulthood, and so potentially help to reduce the burden of illness associated with loss of muscle mass in old age.’’ A total of 678 mothers took part in the research, which is published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Professor Cyrus Cooper, director of the MRC LEU at the University of Southampton, said: “This work should help us to design interventions aimed at optimising body composition in childhood and later adulthood and thus improve the health of future generations.’’