Overeating when pregnant and lactating spur similar eating behavior to fetus throughout life
21 Mar 2023 --- Being overweight or obese while pregnant and nursing might lead to the child overeating as an adult, as overnutrition causes developing brains to crave unhealthy foods, which might lead to diet-induced obesity and diabetes, finds a study from Rutgers University, New Jersey, US.
“People born to overweight or obese mothers tend to be heavier in adulthood than people born to leaner mothers and experiments like this suggest that the explanation goes beyond environmental factors such as learning unhealthy eating habits in childhood,” says Mark Rossi, senior author of the study and a professor of psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
“Overnutrition during pregnancy and nursing appears to rewire the brains of developing children and, possibly, future generations.”
The differences in behaviors might come from differing connections between the hypothalamus and the amygdala, arising from the mothers’ nutritional intake differences.
When the researchers allowed pregnant mice to become obese through unlimited access to food high in fat throughout nursing, they found that the mice stayed slim when given access to healthy food. However, compared to the mice born to lean mothers with access to unhealthy food, they overate.
Published in Molecular Metabolism, the study included six mice. Three were given high-fat foods and three got healthy food throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. The offspring amounted to 50 pups, and the ones from the overweight mothers overate “significantly more.”
The results have mixed implications for children from overweight mothers, as it showed that if following a healthy diet, staying lean is still possible. However, it also says that eating a moderate amount of unhealthy food might escalate to overconsumption and obesity for the same group.
“There’s still more work to do because we don’t fully understand how these changes happen, even in mice. But each experiment tells us a little more and each little bit we learn about the processes that drive overeating may uncover a strategy for potential therapies,” says Rossi.
The study also notes that prior research on humans shows that high maternal weight is associated with an increased risk of neuropsychiatric illness and metabolic dysfunction later in life.
Additionally, children of mothers on a high-fat diet are more inclined to develop Type 2 diabetes or obesity in adulthood.
The authors further argue that the results found in the study might help future research on disrupted brain circuits in the two groups of mice and help inform the creation of drugs that would block the excess desire to consume unhealthy foods.
Recently, a study by the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, UK, found a greater risk of poor neonatal and offspring health among pregnant obese women.
Another study found an increased risk of obesity in offspring from mothers drinking high-sugary beverages due to an impact on the fetus’s gut microbiome. “The diet of human mothers during pregnancy and lactation likely also impacts the gut microbiota, microbial metabolites, and the metabolic fitness of their children,” the researchers said previously.
Edited by Beatrice Wihlander
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