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High-Fat Diet during Pregnancy Increases Obesity Risk for Offspring

Update Date: Jan 23, 2014 12:09 PM EST

During pregnancy, the different kinds of foods women put into their bodies can greatly affect the future health of their children, according to a new study. The researchers carried out a rat study and found that pregnant rats that ate a high-fat diet increased the risk of lifelong obesity and other related metabolic disorders for their offspring.

"Our study suggests that expecting mothers can have major impact on the long-term metabolic health of their children by properly controlling nutrition during this critical developmental period of the offspring," said the study's co-lead author Tamas Horvath, the Jean and David W. Wallace Professor of Biomedical Research and chair of comparative medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

In this study the researchers from the Yale School of Medicine and the University of Cologne used mouse models to assess the effects of a high-fat diet on offspring. The researchers discovered that when pregnant rats ate a high-fat diet during lactation, their offspring had abnormal neuronal circuits in their hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the region of the brain that is responsible for metabolism.

The researchers found that a high-fat diet also affected the offspring's insulin signaling abilities in their brain circuits. The offspring of obese mothers ended up being overweight or obese and had abnormal glucose metabolism. Even though the study was done on rat models, the researchers believe that for humans, the critical period would most likely be during the third trimester. Women could be extra careful about their diets during these few months.

"Mothers can control or even reverse their offspring's predisposition to obesity and resulting diseases by altering their food intake," said Horvath. "Because gestational diabetes frequently manifests during the third trimester, the results could inform more intense screening of mothers for alterations in glucose metabolism."

The study was published in Cell.

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