Mum's unhealthy eating habits during pregnancy and breastfeeding makes kids more prone to eating unhealthily, say scientists August 17, 2007
EVER wondered why you just can't resist ice cream, hamburgers, and doughnuts?
You might want to blame your mother for that.
New research done on rats has shown that children whose mothers eat junk food during pregnancy and breastfeeding may be more likely to overeat, choose an unhealthy diet and grow obese later in life, Reuters reported.
Previous studies have shown that children born to obese mothers are likely to be overweight, but the new findings are some of the first to look at what behaviours may be triggering unhealthy eating habits, the researchers said.
'It indicates there is a foetal programming for overeating,' said ProfNeil Stickland, a researcher at the Royal Veterinary College in London who worked on the study.
'The foetuses are getting used to this junk food during gestation,' he added in a telephone interview.
'It is not just genetics,' he said.
'We can show a direct link to what the mothers eat and how it affects the children.'
In the study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers took two group of pregnant rats and gave one a diet of junk food such as doughnuts, muffins and sweets and fed the other nutritional pellets.
Surprisingly, Prof Stickland said, there was no effect on birth weight.
But when the young rats were weaned, the team found that the rodents whose mothers ate junk food put on weight more quickly, had a taste for unhealthy food and gorged.
Studying rats has implications for humans because the mechanisms controlling appetite are similar in many species, Prof Stickland said.
The study also attempts to better understand what drives appetite, a process controlled by brain centres that respond to signals telling us when we are hungry and when we are full.
The research indicated that the young rats may be overindulging because as they eat more, the 'pleasure centres' in the brain stimulated by sugary foods need increased amounts of food to reach the same level of satisfaction.
'Exposure to a maternal junk food diet during their foetal and suckling life might help explain why some individuals might find it harder than others to control their junk food intake even when given access to healthier foods later in life,' Dr Stephanie Bayol, a researcher at the Royal Veterinary College who led the study, said in a statement.
Prof Stickland added: 'Future mothers should be aware that pregnancy and lactation are not the time to over-indulge on fatty and sugary treats on the assumption that they are 'eating for two'.'
However, Ms Fiona Ford, a research nutritionist from the University of Sheffield, told BBC News that in the absence of strong evidence that the same effect was present in humans, it would be wrong to make women feel guilty about eating some unhealthy snacks during pregnancy.
'A balanced diet is important during pregnancy,' she said.
'While this is interesting research, these mechanisms are so finely tuned that I don't think we understand them yet.'
Dr Atul Singham, from the Institute of Child Health in London, was equally sceptical about whether the study could apply to humans.
He said: 'This is what we are looking into - but at the moment there is no data in humans to support this, and obviously it is very difficult to carry out intervention studies such as these in pregnancy.'