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Mom’s Obesity at Conception May Set Stage for Offspring’s Obesity Risk

Posted Aug 25 2008 3:27pm

There are many reasons for maintaining a healthy weight--aiding conception is just one of them. But did you know that if you do manage to conceive, if you are obese, you're setting your child up for a lifetime of obesity and its attendant health problems? (Plus look at the stats on obese 11 month olds--what's next, in utero gastric bypass surgery?)

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Newswise — The number of overweight and obese Americans continues to grow rapidly. Today, 50 percent of adults are overweight and up to 20 percent are obese. While the number of overweight/obese children is at an all time high, the steady increase of overweight infants – individuals under 11 months old – is alarming.

Research studies have found that pregnant women who are overweight/obese are more likely to give birth to heavier babies, and the risk of overweight children becoming obese adults is nearly nine times greater than for children who are not overweight. Studies also show that greater body-weight at birth and weight gain early in life increases the risk of becoming overweight or obese as an adult. Inheritance studies show that a child’s body mass index (BMI) correlates more closely with the mother’s BMI than with it’s father’s, suggesting that an interaction of both genetic and intrauterine influences, may contribute to later-life obesity risk in the offspring.

Armed with these and other data, a team of researchers from the USDA-Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center has examined whether the subtle effects of fetal exposure to the mother’s obesity can have a latent effect on the offspring. In a new report, investigators studied whether fetal exposure to gestational obesity leads to a self-reinforcing viscous cycle of excessive weight gain and body fat which passes from mother to child. The results of the new study suggest they do.

Conclusions

These findings add to the existing body of evidence showing that both maternal obesity and genetic background influence offspring’s susceptibility to obesity. It goes further, to highlight the role of post-natal obesegenic diet as a determinant in revealing subtle programming imposed by maternal obesity. The results also demonstrate that high levels of adiposity (body fat) occur in the offspring of obese mothers despite consuming similar calories as their lean-offspring counterparts and that offspring obesity is associated with insulin resistance. The “programming” of susceptibility to obesity occurs in the absence of changes in birth weights and other fetal outcomes.

According to Dr. Kartik Shankar of the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, “The mother’s body composition at conception has important implications for the metabolism and risk of obesity in the offspring in later years. Not only do these findings help us appreciate the reasons for the rapid rise in obesity, this novel model will allow us to understand the underlying mechanisms and should provide fertile opportunity for translational type research.”

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