November 6, 2008

Propensity for Obesity May Start in Womb

The fact fetal rats develop a propensity for obesity while in the womb of their fat mothers has implications for humans, University of Buffalo researchers say.

In addition, the study found metabolic programming occurs in the fetal hypothalamus, the area of the brain responsible for maintaining the body's energy homeostasis -- body weight -- throughout life.

Levels of the hormones insulin and leptin also were elevated in fetuses of these obese mother rats -- abnormalities that have been correlated with increased appetite and insulin resistance, a prelude to diabetes, as well as obesity and hypertension, the researchers said.

"While these studies were done with rats, there is good reason to think the mechanism would be similar in humans," senior author Mulchand Patel said in a statement.

"The fact that more than one-third of women of child-bearing age in the United States are expected to be overweight or obese during pregnancy, based on a 2003 study, does not portend well for good health of their offspring."

The findings were published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism.