Mom’s high-fat diet before pregnancy may alter her baby’s taste buds, leading to obesity in adulthood

ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s often said that children pay for the sins of their father, but what about the diet of their mother? A new study from Cornell University finds that mom’s diet before becoming pregnant may go a long way toward determining Jr.’s bodyweight come adulthood.

Researchers conclude that if mom follows a high-fat diet diet before conception, it could change her child’s taste buds and produce more sweet-taste receptors. Consequently, the child may be more attracted to unhealthy junk food and sweets, eventually leading to obesity.

These findings were reached via a series of experiments conducted on lab mice. The mice were fed a high calorie, high-fat diet five weeks before becoming pregnant. Scientists say the rodents’ offspring showed physical, detectable taste bud changes.

“We see this is something actually happening in the taste buds themselves,” says senior study author Robin Dando, associate professor of food science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, in a release. “Adult progeny, fed such a diet, have more sweet-taste receptors inside their taste buds than in the control group, whose mothers ate a steady, healthy diet.”

How taste buds can be influenced by a high-fat diet

When the young mice reached adolescence, they were given a healthy, balanced diet. But, once each mouse reached adulthood researchers starting giving them the same high-fat diet their mothers had eaten.

“Up until then, the animals showed no difference between themselves and the control group,” Dando explains. “But as soon as the offspring of the moms who consumed the unhealthy diet had access to it, they loved it and they over-consumed it.”

The mice offspring weren’t exposed to a high-fat diet at all before reaching adulthood, meaning they must have inherited this predilection from their mothers.

“If a mother has an unhealthy diet where she consumes a lot of calories through high-fat and sugary products,” Dando adds, “the offspring are going to have a predisposition for liking the unhealthy diet. The origin of this is not only the changes the brain, but there are other physical changes happening within the taste buds.”

Combating the obesity epidemic

This experiment only involved mice. But, combined with one’s environment, it’s estimated that obesity inheritance among humans is 40-70%.

“Obesity in the offspring is strongly predicted by the metabolic state of the parents,” Dando notes.

All in all, Dando believes these findings indicate that the concept of “taste” can also be passed down from parent to child.

“Our research adds to the evidence that the taste bud plays a role in the etiology of obesity,” he concludes. “From a public health standpoint, improving our knowledge of prenatal and early postnatal factors that program obesity in offspring may provide insight into therapeutic targets to combat the obesity epidemic – a disease easier to prevent than to cure.”

The study is published in Scientific Reports.

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