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Pregnancy Diet May Predict Obesity

November 13, 2008

Mothers who eat a high-fat diet during pregnancy may increase the likelihood of their child being overweight.

Researchers at Rockefeller University in New York discovered that rats that were given a high-fat diet during pregnancy showed permanent changes in their offspring’s brain that lead to overeating and obesity. This finding could provide a key step towards understanding the mechanisms of fetal programming and could explain the increased prevalence of child obesity over the last 30 years.

“This work provides the first evidence for a fetal program that links high levels of fats circulating in the mother’s blood during pregnancy to the overeating and increased weight gain of offspring after weaning,” senior author Sarah F. Leibowitz, who directs the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurobiology at Rockefeller, was quoted as saying.

The study revealed rat pups born to mothers who consumed the high fat diet, even after the diet had been removed at birth, ate more, weighed more throughout life, and began puberty earlier than those born to mothers who ate a balanced diet for the same two week period.

Researchers also looked at the rat pups’ brain development during the last week of pregnancy. They found the pups from mothers fed high-fat diets had a much larger number of neurons that produce appetite-stimulating nueropeptides — and kept them throughout their lives.

“We’re programming our children to be fat,” Leibowitz was quoted as saying. “I think it’s very clear that there’s vulnerability in the developing brain, and we’ve identified the site of this action where new neurons are being born. We now need to understand how the lipids affect these precursor cells that form these fat-sensitive neurons that live with us throughout life.”

SOURCE: Journal of Neuroscience, 2008;28:12107-12119

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