The finding is based on a new study by researchers at the Royal Veterinary College, London, who found that mothers who eat junk food during pregnancy and breastfeeding may be putting their children at risk of overeating and developing obesity.
The study was carried out on a mouse model, during which researchers observed rats fed a diet of processed junk food such as doughnuts, muffins, biscuits, crisps and sweets during pregnancy and lactation.
The researchers found that offspring of these rats gave birth to offspring which overate and had a preference for junk foods rich in fat, sugar and salt when compared to the offspring of rats given regular feed.
The research team believes the findings have implications for humans as well.
"Our study has shown that eating large quantities of junk food when pregnant and breastfeeding could impair the normal control of appetite and promote an exacerbated taste for junk food in offspring," says lead author Dr Stephanie Bayol.
"This could send offspring on the road to obesity and make the task of teaching healthy eating habits in children even more challenging.
"Exposure to a maternal junk food diet during their foetal and suckling life might help explain why some individuals might find it harder than others to control their junk food intake even when given access to healthier foods later in life," Dr Bayol added.
Professor Neil Stickland, a co-author on the study, who heads the research group at the Royal Veterinary College, believes that mothers need to be made aware of the risks associated with a poor diet.
"The government is trying to encourage healthier eating habits in schools, but our research shows that healthy eating habits need to start during the foetal and suckling life of an individual," says Professor Stickland.
"Giving children better school dinners is very good, but more needs to be done to raise awareness in pregnant and breastfeeding women as well. Future mothers should be aware that pregnancy and lactation are not the time to over-indulge on fatty-sugary treats on the misguided assumption that they are 'eating for two,'" he added.
Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the research is published in the British Journal of Nutrition.