In Sydney, Australia, scientists have discovered that obesity and type 2 diabetes in pregnancy can program children to develop metabolic problems later in life.
The good news is, this legacy is not set in stone—if children of obese mothers are careful about what they eat, it can be overturned. The study, carried out by scientists at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, is published in the June edition of the journal Epigenetics
By using genetically identical mice as a model, the team investigated the effects of having a mother with obesity and type 2 diabetes. The research team found that the offspring of obese and diabetic mothers were predisposed to developing metabolic disease and that males were particularly affected.
These offspring were heavier than the offspring of lean mothers—even as babies—and when weaned onto a Western-style "junk food" diet, they developed the hallmarks of type 2 diabetes within a few weeks. But the news isn't all bad. The offspring of obese mothers, while heavier and fatter, could be protected from overt metabolic disease and fatty liver by sticking to a low-fat diet.
The team of researchers found that the predisposed mice had widespread "epigenetic" changes across their genome. Contrary to changes that occur in the DNA itself (genetics changes), epigenetic changes are more plastic and can sometimes be modified by changes in our environment and/or behavior.