Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Changes in fatty-acid composition of body fat before and after birth in Tanzania: an international comparative study.

Br Med J 1979; 1 doi: (Published 31 March 1979) Cite this as: Br Med J 1979;1:850
  1. E R Boersma


    Changes in the fatty-acid composition of human adipose tissue before birth and during infancy and childhood were studied in Tanzania and compared with data for British and Dutch infants in relation to their diet. From the 32nd to the 37th week of gestation in Tanzania the proportion in the body fat of the unsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid tended to rise, suggesting an adequate supply of this essential fatty acid from the mother to the fetus. At term 2.5% of the total fatty acids of the body fat was linoleic acid, which corresponded with values in Dutch newborn infants but was significantly higher than those in British infants. During infancy in Tanzania the composition of the fat showed a dramatic increase in the proportions of the saturated fatty acids lauric acid and myristic acid, which did not occur in Dutch and British infants. The proportion of linoleic acid increased to 8%. These changes were a reflection of the fatty-acid composition of the fat in the human milk that the infants received. During weaning (1-2 years of age) the fatty-acid composition changed only slightly. The specific fatty-acid composition of the fat in Tanzanian breast milk may have a beneficial influence on the extent of intestinal absorption in the newborn child.