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Mother’s Diet Effects Children

The old saying is "you are what you eat," but new animal studies suggest the saying should be "your children are what you eat." Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College and London's

Wellcome Trust have discovered that rats whose mothers were fed a poor diet while pregnant and breastfeeding have long-lasting health damage. Professor Neil Stickland, the study co-author, said considering that humans share a number of key biological systems with rats, the findings are likely applicable to humans.

For the study, researchers fed one group of female rats a healthy diet of regular feed during pregnancy and breastfeeding, while another group received a diet of processed junk food such as chips, donuts, cookies, and muffins. When the researchers compared the offspring of the two groups, they found those born to the "junk food" group had higher levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, a type of fat found in the bloodstream which has been linked to increased risk of heart disease. They also had higher levels of glucose and insulin, both shown to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Even after the offspring were weaned off junk food and switched to healthier diets, their metabolism remained altered, making them more overweight and unhealthy than rats whose mothers had not eaten junk food. There were, however, interesting differences between the sexes. While the male offspring of ‘junk food' mothers had higher levels of insulin and normal blood sugar, the reverse was true of females, who also tended to be fatter.

Studies by the same team have already shown that rats whose mothers were fed junk food during pregnancy and breastfeeding were more likely to crave similar snacks themselves. "It seems that a mother's diet whilst pregnant and breast-feeding is very important for the long term health of her child," study co-author Dr. Stephanie Bayol said in a prepared statement. "This does not mean that obesity and poor health is inevitable, and it is important that we take care of ourselves and live a healthy lifestyle. But it does mean that mothers must eat responsibly whilst pregnant."

Dr. Pat Goodwin, from the Wellcome Trust, agrees and says the study supports the growing evidence that there are many different risk factors which could contribute to someone becoming overweight and developing related health problems. "Obesity has increased dramatically over the last few years and need to be tackled urgently." she said. "Pregnancy can be a difficult time for many mothers, but it is important that they are aware that what they eat may affect their offspring."

However, nutrition researcher Dr. Simon Langley-Evans from the University of Nottingham disagrees. "I'm not convinced that they have shown this-everything you are seeing here could be the result of obesity caused by increased appetite," he said. "What it does show is that this early influence from the mother is very important."

The study was published in the online issue of The Journal of Physiology.

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