A new animal study has found that the age a girl reaches puberty is influenced by the prenatal diet consumed by her mom.
Deborah Sloboda, PhD, and her colleagues studied rats to see how prenatal nutrition and nutrition during childhood interact to alter reproductive maturation.
During the course of the research the boffins fed pregnant rats a high-fat diet throughout pregnancy and lactation (breastfeeding).
These were then compared with control rats fed a regular diet of rat chow.
The researchers found that the onset of puberty was much earlier in all rats whose mothers had a high-fat diet, compared with the offspring of controls that ate a regular diet.
"This might suggest that the fetal environment in high fat fed mothers plays a greater role in determining pubertal onset than childhood nutrition," said Dr Sloboda.
She and her colleagues also noted that even if the rodents ate a regular diet when young, those born to mothers fed a high-fat diet had a higher amount of body fat in later life.
Among the adult rats that had a maternal high-fat diet, the study showed alterations in sex hormones, including increased levels of the ovarian hormone progesterone in females.
"Maternal high-fat nutrition may influence reproductive maturation and reproductive capacity in adult offspring," Sloboda said.
The study and its findings were presented on June 16, at The Endocrine Society's 90th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.