The research team is currently studying the metabolic programming, which occurs when an insult during a critical period of development, either in the womb or soon after birth, triggers permanent changes in metabolism.
In the present study conducted using a mouse model the team looked at the effects of a diet high in saturated fat on mice and their offspring.
The results showed that a high-fat diet induced type 2 diabetes in the adult mice and that this effect was reversed by stopping the diet.
However, if female mice continued a high-fat diet during pregnancy and/or suckling, their offspring also had a greater frequency of diabetes development, even though the offspring were given a moderate-fat diet.
These mice were then mated with healthy mice, and the next generation offspring (grandchildren of the original high-fat fed generation) could develop diabetes as well.
They found that exposing a fetal mouse to high levels of saturated fats can cause it and its offspring to acquire diabetes, even if the mouse goes off the high-fat diet and its young are never directly exposed.
The study will be published in the September issue of the Journal of Lipid Research.