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10 February 2011
Better babies conceived after weight loss

Overweight mothers who lose body fat before pregnancy improve the lifelong health of their children, say researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio.

In the study, the researchers induced maternal obesity by feeding a group of female rats a high-fat diet prior to mating. This group of females ate the fatty chow from weaning through adolescent life to breeding and remained on it through pregnancy and lactation. Meanwhile, females in a second group were switched to normal chow one month before mating.

The researchers observed that fat mass and fat cell size were increased in the offspring of fat mothers and these changes were significantly reversed by the dietary intervention in the other group of rodents. Importantly, this is the first study showing reversibility of adverse metabolic effects of maternal obesity on offspring by a pre-pregnancy intervention.

"Developmental programming sets the scene that influences one's health for the rest of life," the researchers note. "It is of interest that offspring of the obese mothers also showed high levels of leptin, a hormone that signals the brain to decrease appetite. This may mean they've developed a brain that is resistant to the signals that tell them they're getting fat, and they just go on eating and thus get fat as their mothers were. That is what we mean when we say that the effects are transgenerational. Leptin levels were normal in the offspring of the intervention group, showing that we can break this cycle."

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Source: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

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