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If Mother Eats Poorly, Effect May Last for Generations


Researchers from Washington University in Saint Louis did experiments on mice and found that the effects of high fat, high sucrose diets lasted into the 3rd generation.

If a mother-to-be eats too much fat and sugar, it’s not just the baby she’s carrying who might be harmed—as many as 3 generations could be affected, a new study has found.

Research from Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis has found that when a mother eats poorly during pregnancy, her offspring has the potential for obesity-related conditions like heart disease and diabetes—even if that child later becomes a healthy eater.

The findings, published in the most recent issue of Cell Reports, are alarming for the future health of Americans, since more than two-third of US women of child-bearing age are overweight or obese, according to researchers, citing CDC data.

“Findings such as these help to point out that eating a healthy diet every day as well as during pregnancy is one of the best things women can do for themselves and their baby,” said Lela M. Emad, MD, of the Women’s OB/GYN Medical Group in Santa Rosa, California, who commented on the results.

The study from Washington University involved mice who were fed high fat, high sucrose diets and developed metabolic syndrome. Offspring through the third generation developed mitochondrial dysfunction, and mitochondrial changes were seen in the oocytes, suggesting germline transmission.

“Our results indicate that maternal programming of metabolic disease can be passed through the female germline, and that the transfer of aberrant oocyte mitochondria to subsequent generations may contribute to the increased risk for developing insulin resistance,” the researchers wrote.

Being overweight while pregnant is known to affect the baby, and overweight mothers are at increased risk of complications such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia, stillbirth, and caesarean delivery. CDC data show that women who are overweight require more healthcare services, driving up costs. However, data also show that if women lose weight before they get pregnant, they can avoid many of these complications and costs.

Emad, in commenting on the findings, said women who are overweight and contemplating pregnancy should start trying to lose weight a full year before trying to become pregnant.

“Eating nutritiously is a good choice for any woman to make, but particularly important for a woman who is considering having a baby—one that potentially impact the health of her family for generations to come,” she said.


Saben JL, Boudoures AL, Ashgar Z et al. Maternal metabolic syndrome programs mitochondrial dysfunction via germline changes across three generations. Cell Reports. 2016;16(1):1-8.

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