Babies fed with high-fat diets just after birth can cause lifetime obesity. Researchers from Johns Hopkins discovered the link while studying the health of a group of baby mice.
Researchers fed half of pregnant rats a high-fat diet and half a normal diet. After birth, half of the offspring of the high-fat mothers were given to the normal-diet mothers to nurse and vice versa.
The study found that newborn baby rats exposed to a high-fat diet through the breast milk of rat mothers fed high amounts of fat were more likely to gain excessive weight and have impaired tolerance to glucose, a sign of prediabetes; they also become insensitive to the hormone leptin, which regulates appetite and body weight in humans and rodents.
Leptin, secreted by fat cells, signals how much fat is around and controls food intake; obese people often are insensitive to the signals, for reasons so far unclear.
The study also found that newborn rats, which were exposed to a high-fat diet both before and after birth (through breast milk) gained more weight and were obese by the time they were weaned.
However, researchers found that mothers on a high-fat diet, during pregnancy, but nursed by rats on a normal diet did not suffer the same fate, according to the findings published in Diabetes journal.
"Our research confirms that exposure to a high-fat diet right after birth has significant consequences for obesity," said Kellie L K Tamashiro, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "But it also suggests that by putting children on a healthy diet in infancy and early childhood, we can intervene and potentially prevent a future of obesity, diabetes and heart disease."
Although the mice study found that high-fat baby food causes life-time obesity, scientists claim that high-fat diets have the same effects on newborns and young children.
"Ostetricians may be on the right track as they rethink guidelines for pregnant women. Many suggest that obese women limit weight gain during pregnancy by reducing fat and calories. Obese mothers who switch to healthier diets during pregnancy and then maintain them while nursing may be able to help their children avoid the road to obesity," Tamashiro said.
Obesity is one of the major health problems across the globe. It often leads to many other disorders, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and arthritis.
"Obesity rates have increased threefold over the last 20 years. We know it's not because of genetics because our genes don't change that quickly. So we are focusing on the developmental environment. Obese children are developing metabolic disorders earlier, affecting their quality of life and health over the long term. Prevention is probably the best strategy we have," Tamashiro said.