Blocking an inter-generational cycle of obesity

Being exposed to high levels of nutrition before birth can influence the development of networks within the brain that regulate appetite to permanently set a pattern of appetite for life, according to researchers from the University of South Australia.

In addition to changing the way in which the brain develops, high levels of nutrition before birth stimulate the developing fat cells, making them more likely to increase in size, resulting in obese babies who stay obese throughout their lives.

How babies respond to nutrition from their mothers before birth and how the nutritional environment before birth impacts on health after birth has been the focus of a major research program being undertaken by UniSA's Pro Vice Chancellor: Research and Innovation, Professor Caroline McMillen.

"Babies born with a high birth weight have an increased risk in later life of obesity and associated health risks including diabetes," Prof McMillen said.

"More women are entering pregnancy with a high body mass index and a range of studies worldwide have shown that heavier mothers generally have heavier babies who grow up to be heavier adults with resultant health risks. There is currently a real concern that the programming of obesity from before birth will result in an inter-generational cycle of obesity," Professor McMillen said.

What is clear and what hasn't been dealt with effectively to this point is that obesity is established very early in life, according to postdoctoral research fellow, Beverly Muhlhausler from UniSA's Early Origins of Adult Health laboratory.

"We need to stop infants from becoming obese in the first place," Muhlhausler said.

"Understanding what happens early on can help to define the critical window in which to introduce an intervention that will block the obesity cycle. We know that window of opportunity is small and we know that we have to intervene very early in development to have a l

Contact: Geraldine Hinter
Research Australia

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