The study published in the journal Endocrinology, suggests that having a wide selection of foods available during childhood could be a stronger driver of obesity risk than those inherited maternally.
Researchers from Virginia Tech found that it was too many food choices rather than a mother’s poor diet that increased the likelihood of obesity.
In fact, it was not the presence of a high fat diet but having a choice between a high fat and low fat diet that made an offspring eat more.
“We like variety,” said Professor Deborah J. Good from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “But when there is a choice, we eat more than when there is not any variety.”
The litmus test on mice
While previous mouse studies that investigated the role of a mother's diet in offspring obesity limited the food choices to only high fat or low fat diets, this test included both.
Mimicking a real world environment in which people have the choice between eating fattening foods or healthy low fat ones, two sets of mothers were given a high fat and a low fat diet. The offspring were given the same and in addition, a choice of both foods.
The offspring that had a choice of high and low fat foods had an increase in body weight, body fat, and glucose levels.
Those on a low fat diet showed no such negative impacts. They did, however, have a higher energy expenditure compared to those on low or high fat diets. Essentially, the mice burned more energy as they wandered around and evaluated which food they were going to eat.
Applied in real life, it said that if someone had the choice of healthy and fatty foods in a grocery store - they may pick both, which would lead to a higher daily fat intake.
Though the study was done on mice, the researchers believe the results are telling and could apply to humans.
Make low fat food readily available
The authors suggested that if low-fat foods were more readily available, or priced competitively with high -fat and unhealthy foods, even babies born to overweight mothers could counter their prenatal environment and avoid being overweight themselves.
“This helps to show that if you make good choices, you can overcome some of your natural tendencies and be healthier in the long-run,” said Renee Prater, study co-author and associate dean for curriculum, assessment and medical education at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Volume 156, Issue 1, doi: 10.1210/en.2014-1523
"Mitigating or Exacerbating Effects of Maternal-Fetal Programming of Female Mice Through the Food Choice Environment"
Authors: B. Brenseke, et al