Babies who are fed with high-fat diet at birth are at increased risk of becoming obese later in life, research finds.
Researchers found that rats born to mothers fed high-fat diets but who get normal levels of fat in their diets right after birth avoid obesity and its related disorders as adults.
Meanwhile, rat babies exposed to a normal-fat diet in the womb but nursed by rat mothers on high-fat diets become obese by the time they are weaned.
The experiments suggest that what mammalian babies - including humans - get to eat as newborns and young children may be more important to their metabolic future than exposure to unhealthy nutrition in the womb, the scientists said.
"Our research confirms that exposure to a high-fat diet right after birth has significant consequences for obesity," said Kellie L.K. Tamashiro, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of the study.
"But it also suggests that by putting children on a healthy diet in infancy and early childhood, we can intervene and potentially prevent a future of obesity, diabetes and heart disease," Tamashiro added.
Tamashiro and her colleagues currently are trying to determine whether exercise in early rat development, the equivalent of elementary school age in humans, can reverse the effects of exposure to a high-fat diet.
While the findings are important steps in understanding how prenatal and postnatal environments affect development, Tamashiro cautions that data from rats don't directly translate into human application.
The study was published online in the journal Diabetes.