Sleeping baby. Photo: Paul Goyette/WikiMedia Commons
Sleeping baby. Photo: Paul Goyette/WikiMedia Commons

A mother’s diet around the time of pregnancy may influence whether her offspring become obese, according to a new study by The Scripps Research Institute.

And a typical American, or Western, diet appears to set up the next generation for lifelong obesity issues.

“Your diet itself matters, not just whether you are gaining excess weight or developing gestational diabetes,” said  Associate Professor Eric Zorrilla, who led the study in collaboration with researchers in Alabama and New Jersey.

Their work was published recently in the American Journal of Physiology.

The researchers made the discovery by studying two lines of rats, one selectively bred to be obesity-resistant to a high-fat diet and one bred to be unusually vulnerable. Rats from each group were fed either a diet with the same overall fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate and protein levels as a typical Western diet, or a lower-fat, higher-grain control diet.

The scientists found that female rats given a Western diet in the weeks leading up to pregnancy, during pregnancy and during nursing had offspring more prone to obesity at birth, during early adolescence and—many months later—through adulthood. This occurred even if the mothers themselves did not overeat and maintained a healthy weight, body fat and insulin status.

Zorrilla said the results were surprising because, whereas previous studies had shown that overweight mothers were more likely to have overweight offspring, the new findings suggest that diet alone can make a difference independent of weight gain.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.