New link shows mother’s pregnancy diet influences child’s chances of obesity

April 19th, 2011 - 3:47 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Apr 19 (ANI): Scientists have discovered how a mother’s nutrition during pregnancy can strongly influence her child’s risk of obesity many years later.

The study, led by University of Southampton researchers, including teams from New Zealand and Singapore, has shown for the first time that during pregnancy, a mother’s diet can alter the function of her child’s DNA.

The process, called epigenetic change, can make the child pile on more fat. Importantly, the study shows that this effect acts independently of how fat or thin the mother is and of child’s weight at birth.

“We have shown for the first time that susceptibility to obesity cannot simply be attributed to the combination of our genes and our lifestyle, but can be triggered by influences on a baby’s development in the womb, including what the mother ate,” Keith Godfrey, Professor of Epidemiology and Human Development at the University of Southampton, who led the study, said.

“A mother’s nutrition while pregnant can cause important epigenetic changes that contribute to her offspring’s risk of obesity during childhood,” he stated.

Researchers measured epigenetic changes in nearly 300 children at birth and showed that these strongly predicted the degree of obesity at six or nine years of age.

What was surprising to the researchers was the size of the effect - children vary in how fat they are, but measurement of the epigenetic change at birth allowed the researchers to predict 25 percent of this variation.

The epigenetic changes, which alter the function of our DNA without changing the actual DNA sequence inherited from the mother and father, can also influence how a person responds to lifestyle factors such as diet or exercise for many years to come.

“This study indicates that measures to prevent childhood obesity should be targeted on improving a mother’s nutrition and her baby’s development in the womb,” Godfrey said.

“These powerful new epigenetic measurements might prove useful in monitoring the health of the child,” he stated.

Professor Cyrus Cooper, who directs the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, said that MRC population-based studies have shown that early life factors influence risk of disease many years later.

“Now we can begin to see the mechanisms by which this happens, opening up new avenues for medical research and interventions,” he added.

Their findings will be published April 26 in the printed journal Diabetes. (ANI)

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