Researchers from the University of Nottingham in the UK have found that children whose mothers dieted excessively during their pregnancies may be at risk for health problems later in life. The results are part of EARNEST ('The early nutrition programming project'), which is funded under the 'Food Quality and Safety' Priority of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to the tune of EUR 13.4 million. The findings were published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology. The researchers found that these children face an increased risk of obesity, and that they experience the negative effects of obesity sooner rather than later. Their findings are based on a study of lambs whose mothers were on a restricted diet during their pregnancy and who were later permitted to gain weight. The lambs had a reduced capacity to store fat compared to fat lambs whose mothers were not on a restricted diet. According to the researchers, the lambs with reduced fat capacity will deposit fat in other organs including the heart. 'Sheep are very good [animals] in which to investigate these effects because they have a similar length of pregnancy to humans and the lambs are at a similar stage of development when they are born,' explained Professor Mike Symonds from the University of Nottingham. The method used to help the lambs gain weight was comparable to how children usually gain excessive weight: 'eat a lot and exercise much less'. The first negative effect of obesity for the lambs was increased insulin resistance, a condition in which normal amounts of insulin are not enough to produce a normal response from fat, muscle and liver cells. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the storage of glycogen (converted sugar) in the liver and accelerates oxidation of sugar in cells. The efficiency of this regulation is diminished in individuals with insulin resistance. The results showed that insulin resistance, one of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, can lead to deterioration in the health of lambs whose mothers were on a nutrient-restricted programme compared to lambs whose mothers were not. The study's results offer us a glimpse into what can happen for humans. According to the researchers, teenagers who are overweight have a higher chance of developing metabolic syndrome than their peers with normal weight. Teens who may be overweight because of their mothers' decision to diet during pregnancy may sustain greater problems than adolescents who are overweight for other reasons. 'The findings emphasise the need to maintain optimal food intake throughout pregnancy and also indicate the potential dangers of excessive dieting at this time,' Professor Symonds underlined. For her part, Professor Lucilla Poston from King's College London (an EARNEST partner) said: 'This interesting study emphasises just how important it is that expectant mothers are aware of eating a sensible diet in pregnancy.' Their plan to lose weight by restricting food excessively during their pregnancy could backfire. 'It is much better to think about losing weight sometime before planning a pregnancy, and then to try hard not to put on too much weight during pregnancy,' she added. The EARNEST consortium, coordinated by the University of Munich in Germany, is represented by a multi-disciplinary team of scientists from 38 institutions in 16 European countries including the Institute of Physiology in the Czech Republic, the University of Pecs in Hungary, the Institute of Public Health in Norway, France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), NUMICO in Germany, Sweden's Biovitrum and Ashwell Associates in the UK.
Germany, United Kingdom