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Pregnant woman's diet can predispose children to obesity

By Jed Boal  |  Posted Mar 24th, 2011 @ 5:23pm


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WEST VALLEY CITY -- Do junk food-loving moms have junk food-loving babies? A new study involving rats suggests they do.

It's interesting research, because it offers new insight into the obesity epidemic. It also suggests why some of us crave fatty and sugary foods and others do not.

Obesity and Delivery Risks
  • Obese mothers have a 50 percent higher risk of C section.
  • High blood sugar in moms leads to low blood sugar in babies.
  • Mother's obesity leads to higher risk of infection in newborn period.
  • The risk of birth injury is higher for:
    • Shoulder dystocia
      • Nerve injury
    • Obesity and/or diabetes in pregnancy leads to higher risk of obesity and diabetes in newborns and children, which is a lasting effect.

"I crave sweets," said Cintya Arce, who is five months pregnant with her third child.

She tries to make healthy snack choices, like trail mix, but Arce says she really wants to eat caramels and sweet.

Her real favorite during this pregnancy?

"Ding Dongs," she confessed with a laugh. "Just really sweet, cake pastries."

During her first pregnancy Arce says she was very conscientious and ate a healthy diet. She seems to have discovered what the new study shows.

"With my oldest, he's 9 and he's not much into sweets, and I didn't have sweets during that pregnancy," Arce says.

During her second pregnancy, however, she says she ate a lot of sweets, and that child likes sugar.

Researchers in Australia studied two groups of rats during pregnancy and lactation. One group was fed standard "rat chow" and the other was fed junk food.

After they were weaned, the baby rats got to choose their diets from a range of healthy to sweet and high fat. The babies chose more of the foods their mothers ate.

Cycle of Obesity
Other Impacts from the Cycle of Obesity:
  • Overweight and obese moms have 40 percent higher risk of stillbirth.
  • Obesity causes placental dysfunction, higher risks of hypertension, diabetes, and preeclampsia.
  • Higher risk of preterm birth & preterm rupture of membranes.

Dr. Shelley Binkley, an OB/GYN at Pioneer Valley Hospital says diet during pregnancy has been studied extensively for more than a decade. She identifies the issue more precisely as a cycle of obesity.

"Mothers who gain a lot of weight during pregnancy and eat a lot of high-sugar foods, high-fat foods, have babies that are predisposed to be obese as children and predisposed to diabetes and high blood pressure in their lives," Binkley said.

The study with rats suggests pregnant and breastfeeding women who eat high fat and sugary foods are likely to have children who indulge in the same foods. The research shows the high-fat and high-sugar diet changes the fetal brain's reward pathway, altering food preferences.

Binkley says that's why doctors encourage pregnant women to eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains and sensible portions.

"If you eat healthy during pregnancy," she said, "you're much more likely to have a baby that is normal weight during childhood, then of course into adulthood."

Email: jboal@ksl.com

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