Parents Make Fat Kids - © Joe_13 - Flickr via CC BY-ND 2

Childhood Obesity: Fat Mom, Fat Child?

Science has revealed many things to us about our bodies and our bodies’ issues. But a recent study suggests that an overweight mother who consumes a high-fat and high-sugar diet can cause changes in her developing fetus that lead to obesity in childhood and heart trouble later in life…

Fat Parent Fat kid - © Frank Siteman - Science FactionA new study shows that obese mothers are likely to have obese children
– via a physical process that starts in the womb.

New research published in The Journal of Physiology indicates that an obese pregnant mother and exposure to a high fat, high sugar diet during pregnancy produces a “fatty liver” in the fetus, potentially predisposing their children to obesity. While the research has so far been performed only on monkeys, they are the closest relatives humans have, and scientists are confident that their findings can be applied to us.

The mother-child transfer of the tendency to obesity is apparently mediated by a process called developmental programming, which is currently poorly understood. This study found that when a fetus develops in an obese pregnant mother, fat accumulates in its liver and many metabolic pathways are disturbed. This is the first study to report that important recently discovered microRNAs (a DNA product which modifies protein synthesis) play a role in this increased deposition of fat in the liver.

While there is always some fat in the liver, when the liver fat increases above normal an individual is said to have a “fatty liver.” As the amount of liver fat increases, troubles begin. If this is dealt with early, it can be reversed, however if fat deposition persists, the damage can lead to liver scarring and even later-life liver cancer.

The observations of this study may also help explain why children of obese mothers live shorter lives than the offspring of normal weight mothers.

Seems an easy thing to cure – right?

Alas, the new findings speak to a potentially huge problem, as Dr. Peter Nathanielsz, one of the lead investigators on the project explains: “This research is important as, throughout the world, over fifty percent of women of reproductive age are overweight or obese. “It wasn’t until we saw the microscope slides for the staining of liver sections showing very high amounts of lipid in fetuses of obese mothers that we realized the dramatic impact of maternal obesity at such an early developmental time point.”

One problem in dealing with the issue of obese mothers bearing obese children is that many cultural, dietary and other regional norms around the world will have to be successfully challenged by an army of public health agents, an army which does not at present exist. The vast majority of mothers across the globe, in underdeveloped countries, do not enjoy the luxury of a family physician let alone obstetrics and gynecology or pediatric specialists.

What you can do…

Obviously, women who are considering getting pregnant should also consider dieting if they’re overweight, switching to a healthier diet and, especially, cut down on the Fat and Sugar.

~ Maggie J.