Researchers have found that a mother’s nutrition during pregnancy can clearly impact her child’s risk of obesity years in the future.
The research has revealed that during pregnancy, a mother’s diet can change the function of her child’s DNA. The process, called epigenetic change, can result in her child tending to gain more fat. The research reveals that this effect happens independently of how fat or thin the mother is as well as child’s bodyweight at birth.
The study shows that susceptibility to obesity can’t just be due to a combination of our genes and our lifestyle, but could be caused by influences on a baby’s development inside the womb, which includes what the mother consumed. A mother’s nutrition during pregnancy can result in significant epigenetic changes that play a role in her child’s risk of obesity.
The scientists measured epigenetic changes in almost 300 children at birth and established that these strongly predicted the level of obesity at 6 or 9 years old. The thing that was surprising to the scientists was the size of the effect – children differ in how fat they are, but measurement of the epigenetic change at birth made it possible for the scientists to predict 25% of this variation.
The epigenetic changes, which change the function of our DNA without altering the actual DNA sequence inherited from the father and mother, can also impacts how an individual responds to lifestyle factors like diet or exercise for a long time in the future.
This research suggests that steps to avoid childhood obesity needs to be focused on improving a mother’s nutrition and her baby’s growth inside the womb. These powerful new epigenetic measurements could prove useful in keeping track of the health of the child.
The research presents convincing proof that epigenetic changes, at least in part, explain the connection between a poor start to life and later risk of disease. It strengthens the case for those women of reproductive age with better accessibility to education, nutritional and lifestyle support to further improve the health of the next generation, and also to lower the risk of illnesses like heart disease and diabetes which usually go along with obesity.