Children whose mothers ate a high-fat diet while pregnant with them and while breastfeeding are more likely to hit puberty early and to become obese as adults, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Liggins Institute of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and presented at the 90th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, in San Francisco.
Researchers fed female rats either a normal or a high-fat diet throughout pregnancy and lactation. The weaned offspring of these rats were then fed either a high-fat or a normal diet themselves.Rats whose mothers had been fed a high-fat diet reached puberty faster than rats whose mothers had consumed a healthier diet, regardless of what the rats themselves were eating.Early onset of puberty is associated with a greater risk of obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, teenage depression, and adult breast cancer.
Among the rats whose mothers had been fed a normal diet, those who ate a high-fat diet reached puberty sooner than those eating a healthy diet. But the diet of rats whose mothers had eaten too much fat seemed to have no influence on when they reached puberty.”A high-fat diet after birth did not make the early-onset puberty any earlier,” lead author Deborah Sloboda said. “This might suggest that the fetal environment in high-fat fed mothers plays a greater role in determining pubertal onset than childhood nutrition.”The researchers observed the rats into adulthood, noting that those whose mothers had eaten a high-fat diet tended to have a higher percentage of body fat than those whose mothers had been in the control group. This effect was also independent of the rats’ own diet. These rats also had abnormal levels of sex hormones.”Maternal high-fat nutrition may influence reproductive maturation and reproductive capacity in adult offspring,” Sloboda said.