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Study: mom’s junk food could put babies at risk

Aug. 14, 2007
Courtesy Wellcome Trust
and World Science staff

Moth­ers who eat junk food dur­ing preg­nan­cy and breast­feed­ing may put their chil­dren at risk of over­eat­ing and obes­ity, a study by the Roy­al Vet­er­i­nary Col­lege of Lon­don has found. 

Thus, preg­nant and breast­feed­ing wom­en probably should­n’t in­dulge in fat­ty, sug­ary and salty foods un­der the mis­guid­ed as­sump­tion that they’re “eat­ing for two,” the re­search­ers said.

Pub­lished Aug. 14 in The Brit­ish Jour­nal of Nu­tri­tion, the stu­dy found that rats on a di­et of pro­cessed junk food such as dough­nuts, muffins, bis­cuits, po­ta­to chips and sweets dur­ing preg­nan­cy and lacta­t­ion pro­duced off­spring that over­ate and had un­usu­al pref­er­en­ces for fat­ty, sweet and salty junk foods. 

The find­ings probably have im­plica­t­ions for hu­mans, the re­search­ers said.

Obes­ity is a ma­jor cause of dis­ease, as­so­ci­at­ed with an in­creased risk of type 2 di­a­be­tes, heart dis­ease and can­cer. Some 400 mil­lion peo­ple were obese glob­ally in 2005, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­gan­iz­a­tion.

“Eat­ing large quan­ti­ties of junk food when preg­nant and breast­feed­ing could im­pair the nor­mal con­trol of ap­pe­tite and pro­mote an ex­ac­er­bat­ed taste for junk food in off­spring,” said lead au­thor Stéph­anie Ba­yol. 

Ap­pe­tite con­trol is a com­plex pro­cess, in­volv­ing hor­mones that sig­nal to the brain to reg­u­late en­er­gy bal­ance, hun­ger and the feel­ing of full­ness. Feed­ing can stim­u­late “re­ward cen­tres” in the brain, which can some­times over­ride sensa­t­ions of full­ness. Pre­vi­ous re­search has found that fat­ty, sug­ary junk foods in­hib­it the full­ness sig­nals while stim­u­lat­ing the re­ward cen­tres. 

Ex­po­sure to a ma­ter­nal junk early in life may help ex­plain why some people “might find it harder than oth­ers to con­trol their junk food in­take even when giv­en ac­cess to health­i­er foods lat­er in life,” said Ba­yol.


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Mothers who eat junk food during pregnancy and breastfeeding may put their children at risk of overeating and obesity, a new study by the Royal Veterinary College of London has found. Thus, pregnant and breastfeeding women probably shouldn’t indulge in fatty, sugary and salty foods under the misguided assumption that they’re “eating for two,” researchers said. Published Aug. 14 in the British Journal of Nutrition, the study found that rats on a diet of processed junk food such as doughnuts, muffins, biscuits, potato chips and sweets during pregnancy and lactation produced offspring that overate and had unusual preferences for fatty, sweet and salty junk foods. The findings probably have implications for humans, the researchers said. Obesity is a major cause of disease, associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Some 400 million people were obese globally in 2005, according to the World Health Organization. “Eating large quantities of junk food when pregnant and breastfeeding could impair the normal control of appetite and promote an exacerbated taste for junk food in offspring,” said lead author Stéphanie Bayol. Appetite control is a complex process, involving hormones that signal to the brain to regulate energy balance, hunger and the feeling of fullness. Feeding can stimulate “reward centres” in the brain, which can sometimes override sensations of fullness. Previous research has shown that fatty, sugary junk foods inhibit the fullness signals while stimulating the reward centres. “Exposure to a maternal junk food diet during their foetal and suckling life might help explain why some individuals might find it harder than others to control their junk food intake even when given access to healthier foods later in life,” explained Bayol.