A new study has found that pregnant women who are overweight/obese are more likely to give birth to heavier babies.
The study also suggested that the risk of these overweight children becoming obese adults is nearly nine times greater than for children who are not overweight.
Studies have shown that a child's body mass index (BMI) correlates more closely with the mother's BMI than with it's father's, suggesting that an interaction of both genetic and intrauterine influences, may contribute to later-life obesity risk in the offspring.
In the current study, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center found that foetal exposure to gestational obesity leads to a self-reinforcing vicious cycle of excessive weight gain and body fat which passes from mother to child.
To determine that obesity in adulthood may be subject to programming during foetal development, the researchers developed an overfeeding model, which was used in rats.
The model enabled the researchers to replicate many of the metabolic and hormonal features of overweight human individuals. They were also able to exclude parental genetic influences, match gestational weight gain, limit the exposure of maternal obesity in utero, and control lactation efficiency.
In lab tests, it was found that rats born to obese mothers gained remarkably more weight than other rats when fed a high-fat diet. Obese offspring fed a high-fat diet had a 26 percent greater percent fat ratio and a 60 percent increase in subcutaneous fat mass.
While high fat feeding significantly increased serum glucose, triglyceride, insulin and leptin levels in both groups, serum insulin and leptin levels increased by 2.2 and 2.3 fold in obese offspring compared to lean offspring fed the same diet.
The results, according to the authors, suggest that both maternal obesity and genetic background influence offspring's susceptibility to obesity.
"The mother's body composition at conception has important implications for the metabolism and risk of obesity in the offspring in later years. Not only do these findings help us appreciate the reasons for the rapid rise in obesity, this novel model will allow us to understand the underlying mechanisms and should provide fertile opportunity for translational type research," the authors said.
The findings appear in the online edition of the American Journal of Physiology -- Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.