High-fat diet during pregnancy contributes to offspring's increased weight

June 17, 2013

Exposure to a high-fat diet in the womb and after birth can permanently change the cells in the brain that control food intake, predisposing monkeys to overeating and an increased preference for fatty and sugary foods, a new study finds. The results were presented Monday at The Endocrine Society's 95th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, also found that of maternal monkeys that ate a high-fat diet had increased body weight, compared with the offspring of mothers that ate a low-fat diet.

"Studies in humans have demonstrated that maternal obesity during pregnancy is a strong determinant of offspring , or BMI," said the study's lead author, Juliana Gastao Franco, PhD, a at Oregon Health and Science University.

"Our group demonstrated that consumption of a high-fat diet during gestation alters fetal development of neurons that control food intake, ultimately leading to an increased preference for high-calorie food and to increased body fat in the offspring."

Franco and her co-investigators studied monkeys born to females that consumed either a low-fat (control) diet, consisting of 14 percent of calories from fat, or a high-fat diet in which 36 percent of calories came from fat. After weaning, 20 offspring of female monkeys on the high-fat diet either received the same high-fat diet (8 monkeys) or were switched to the control diet (12 monkeys). Seven offspring of the control monkeys continued to receive the control diet.

When the monkeys were 6 to 11 months of age (equivalent to toddlers in humans), the researchers measured their total food intake, dietary preferences, , physical activity and metabolic rate, which is the rate at which the body burns calories. Using techniques, the investigators examined neurotransmitter systems in the monkeys' hypothalamus, the region of the brain that regulates food intake.

All male offspring that had fetal exposure to a high-fat diet had increased body weight, despite having no changes in their metabolic rate and regardless of what they ate after weaning, Franco reported. Also, the offspring that were switched to the displayed, on average, greater overall food intake and increased binge eating of food with high sugar and fat, compared with either those maintained on a high-fat diet or the controls' offspring, she said.

According to Franco, these animals had what appeared to be permanent changes in their hypothalamus—an abnormal organization of the neurons that control food intake.

Co-author Elinor Sullivan, PhD, also of Oregon Health and Science University, speculated on the possible cause of this neurochemical change.

"We know that obesity incites inflammatory cytokines [molecules], which change how neurons develop," Sullivan said. "We believe that inflammation in the brain is causing the reprogramming of these appetite-regulating neurons."

Explore further: Moms who eat high-fat diet before, during pregnancy 'program' babies to be fat, at risk

Related Stories

Adolescents' high-fat diet impairs memory and learning

June 17, 2013

A high-fat diet in adolescence appears to have long-lasting effects on learning and memory during adulthood, a new study in mice finds. The results were presented Saturday at The Endocrine Society's 95th Annual Meeting in ...

Prenatal exposure to BPA affects fat tissues in sheep

June 17, 2013

New research suggests that fetal exposure to the common environmental chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, causes increased inflammation in fat tissues after birth, which can lead to obesity and metabolic syndrome. Results of the ...

Recommended for you

A metabolic master switch underlying human obesity

August 19, 2015

Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century. Affecting more than 500 million people worldwide, obesity costs at least $200 billion each year in the United States alone, and contributes to potentially ...

Scientists probe obesity's ties to breast cancer risk

August 20, 2015

Obesity is a well-known risk factor for breast cancer, but researchers haven't figured out what connects the two. A new study suggests the link may be due to a change in breast tissue structure, which might promote breast ...

Can a new drug brown the fat and trim the obese person?

May 28, 2015

New research has found that a variant of a drug used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension prompts weight loss in obese mice. Among mice fed a high-fat diet, those who did not get the medication became obese while medicated ...

Changing stem cell structure may help fight obesity

February 17, 2015

The research, conducted at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), found that a slight regulation in the length of primary cilia, small hair-like projections found on most cells, prevented the production of fat cells from ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.