Obesity in pregnancy can alter the brain wiring of babies and leave them prone to long-term disorders such as diabetes and uncontrolled weight gain, a study suggests.
Scientists made the discovery after investigating why children whose mothers are obese are at greater risk of metabolic problems as they age.
The research showed that newborn mice nourished by the milk of mothers on a high-fat diet developed abnormal nerve circuits in a key metabolism-regulating brain region. Taking species differences into account, the findings imply that a human mother’s nutrition in the last three months of pregnancy is critical to her child’s future health.
“Our study suggests that expecting mothers can have major impact on the long-term metabolic health of their children by properly controlling nutrition during this critical developmental period of the offspring,” US researcher Professor Tamas Horvath, from Yale School of Medicine, said.
“Mothers can control or even reverse their offspring’s predisposition to obesity and resulting diseases by altering their food intake.”
More than a third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese and at risk from long-term health problems such as Type 2 diabetes. Studies have confirmed that children of mothers who are obese or have diabetes are vulnerable to metabolic disorders, but it has not been clear why.
Previous research has also failed to pinpoint the most critical stage before or after birth when maternal nutrition has the greatest impact on a child’s metabolic health.
To address these questions Prof Horvath’s team and colleagues in Germany used a laboratory mouse to probe metabolic programming.