A new study suggests that a mother’s diet during pregnancy may affect the obesity of her offspring. Mother’s often use the excuse, “I’m eating for two,” but researchers have found that it is better if mother’s concentrated more on healthy eating and avoid high-fat diets that may eventually lead to their children fighting a lifetime of obesity.
The study was published this week in the journal Cell by researchers from the Yale School of Medicine and Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research. The study was conducted on laboratory mice to find out how pregnancy diets may influence their offspring’s brain development. The study found clues that suggest a poor diet may rewire the part of the brain that regulates appetite. They also discovered that it is even more critical during a mother’s third trimester.
One of the study’s co-author and professor of neurobiology and obstetrics at Yale, Tamas Horvath, said that some of the lab mice were fed a high-fat diet during their pregnancy and lactation. The mice born to these mothers had much different metabolic profiles opposed to mice born from mothers with a normal healthy diet.
Horvath says that the baby mice whose mothers were on the high-fat diet while the baby mice were in utero possessed impaired neuron connection in their brains. These neurons regulate glucose and help control appetite when the mice are hungry or full and that is how fat is broken down by a body. However, this news is not really new. Plenty of animal research has already proved the theory once again, that obese mothers give birth to obese children.
What was surprising in this study is that mice babies that had a mother with a normal diet also experienced the neural changes when fed from an obese mother during lactation. In humans the third trimester is equivalent to the brain development of the mice babies during their lactation period.
This suggests that even new mothers that are not currently obese need to eat a healthy diet if they want to avoid creating a child who will experience a lifetime of fighting with obesity. The research also suggested that more investigation may be needed to look closer at late pregnancy as the time when it may not be too late to get the mother’s poor diet back on track in order to break affect the baby to break the obesity cycle.
A Harvard researcher who studies child obesity and directs Boston Children’s Hospital’s New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center, Dr. David Ludwig, said:
“This study is another important piece to the puzzle that early life influences can have long-lasting consequences to the offspring.”
However, Ludwig warns to not take this research too far as humans diverged in evolution from the rodents 60 million years ago. One point to back his warning is that high-fat diets in mice and humans differ so the findings cannot be applied directly to humans. Ludwig did say however that it still proves that nutrition is extremely important for mothers of babies that are in the womb and during their early life. This healthy nutrition for pregnant and lactating women is key to avoiding long-term health problems like obesity.
Ludwig and his colleagues studied 40,000 pregnant mother and more than 90,000 of the mother’s children. To exclude the roles that genes play in childhood obesity, the researchers looked at the weight of children and compared it to the weight gained by the mother during her different pregnancies. Ludwig says that a good proxy for the quality of diet during a pregnancy is the maternal weight gain.
The research also found that high-fat pregnancy diets may affect a baby’s obesity even more than 10 years later.
By Brent Matsalla