The Battle of the Bulge Begins in the Womb

by Julie Snyder

your baby at 14 weeksCould what you eat during your pregnancy influence your child's weight later on? A recent international study suggests that an expectant mother's diet influences her child's future weight.

According to study leader, Keith Godfrey, they've shown for the first time that vulnerability to obesity cannot simply be accredited to the combination of genes and lifestyle, but can be stimulated by influences in development of a baby in the womb, counting what the mother ate.

Altered Gene Expression

Your baby is one intelligent little bean; even those tiny cells are smart. They evaluate the environment in your womb. For example food, pollution, toxic chemicals, and stress. The bean assumes it's going to be similar later on and changes how the genes will express themselves. These changes influence how that person responds to lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise through the rest of their life.

To picture epigenetic changes to DNA, think of radio dials that control the station and the volume. The sequence of the genes is like the radio station. Their order and position doesn't change. Epigenetic markers are chemical groups attached to those genes. Like your radio's volume control, they can be changed.

That's great unless a diet too low in calories or poor quality foods prime your baby's body for famine and the world has abundance.

Helping Your Baby Fight Obesity

Now that you're pregnant, do you feel as if you're being blasted by each new piece of research telling how you're harming your baby? You're not alone.

"It seems anything we do or say can effect the outcome of our pregnancies so it's no surprise when studies show obesity starts in the womb," says a new mom.

There's help on the diet front. We've asked Kimberly Tessler, author of "The Everything Pregnancy Nutrition Book" to tell us what a good prenatal diet means. Her simple recommendations encourage moderation. "By a balanced diet I mean eating from all the food groups each day. Try for three meals a day with two or three healthy snacks in between. It means eating plenty of protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, going easy on sweets and fast foods. It also means drinking plenty of water and watching other beverages such as soft drinks or alcohol."

About the study: University of Southampton researchers tested the DNA of 300 children at birth and asked moms about their diet during pregnancy. The children's health was followed for nine years. Women who ate a poor diet while pregnant were more likely to have children with epigenetic changes. These changes caused the children to have a greater tendency to be overweight by age nine. Previous research has suggested that epigenetic changes are more common in the offspring of overweight women but this study is the first to find that diet affects offspring health regardless of the mom's weight status.

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