High fat diet during pregnancy may predispose the offspring to overeating; permanent changes are induced in brain cells that control food intake. An increased preference for fatty and sugary foods has been shown in offspring who were exposed to high fat diet while in the womb.
The study performed on monkeys, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, showed the influence that maternal diet had on offspring's dietary habits. Male offspring born to monkeys that ate a high-fat diet during pregnancy had increased body weight, compared with the offspring of mothers that ate a low-fat diet.
Advertisement"Studies in humans have demonstrated that maternal obesity during pregnancy is a strong determinant of offspring body mass index, or BMI," said the study's lead author, Juliana Gastao Franco, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Oregon Health and Science University.
"Our group demonstrated that consumption of a high-fat diet during gestation alters fetal development of neurons that control food intake, ultimately leading to an increased preference for high-calorie food and to increased body fat in the offspring."
Investigators studied monkeys born to females that consumed either a low-fat (control) diet, consisting of 14 percent of calories from fat, or a high-fat diet in which 36 percent of calories came from fat. The total food intake, dietary preferences, body composition, physical activity and metabolic rate, which is the rate at which the body burns calories, were measured once the monkeys were 6 to 11 months of age.
Detailed studies that focused on the monkeys' hypothalamus, the region of the brain that regulates food intake, were then performed. All male offspring that had prenatal exposure to a high-fat diet had increased body weight, despite having no changes in their metabolic rate and regardless of what they ate after weaning. An increased overall food intake and increased binge eating of food with high sugar and fat were noticed.
Researchers explain that the altered habits are due to permanent changes in their hypothalamus of the monkeys due to prenatal exposure to high-fat diet. The study was presented at the Endocrine Society's 95th Annual Meeting in San Francisco. At this time, it would be premature to make definitive conclusions based on these 'animal trials'. However to be on the safer side, pregnant mothers are advised to adhere to healthy diets as per body requirements. Always visit your obstetrician and nutritionist for more advice on diet.