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Exposure to a high-fat, obesogenic diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding may contribute to poor eating habits and obesity later in life, a new study in mice shows. Mice whose mothers ate an unhealthy diet tended to overeat and gain more weight than mice whose mothers ate a healthy diet.

Researchers fed female mice one of two diets – a high-fat, obesogenic chow, or a balanced, healthy chow – before, during, and after their pregnancies and lactation. After weaning, the animals' pups were given unlimited access to healthy chow initially and then allowed unlimited access to the high-fat obesogenic chow. The researchers monitored the pups' food intake and body weights and studied their brain connections.

The pups whose mothers ate the high-fat diet were heavier at birth than those whose mothers ate the healthy chow, but their weights normalized after eating the healthy chow. When given access to the high-fat chow, both groups of pups overate and gained weight. However, the pups whose mothers had eaten the high-fat chow overate more (and subsequently gained more weight) than those whose mothers ate the healthy chow, due to differences in brain connections – a consequence of overnutrition during pregnancy and lactation.

These findings suggest that overnutrition during pregnancy primes offspring for adult overeating and weight gain. Learn about other ways in which parental health influences offspring health in this clip featuring Dr. Elissa Eppel.

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