Pregnant women may get strange cravings for sweet, and often high-calorie foods; while they are encouraged to eat a little more to meet the needs of their growing babies, new research suggests that overdoing it may cause long-term harm. According to the study, pregnant mothers' high-fat, high-sugar diets could “program” their unborn children for potential health issues down the road.

The study, conducted by researchers from Cambridge University in England, found that female mice fed high-fat and high-sugar diets when pregnant had compromised nutrition flow to the fetus, which affected their growth and metabolism at critical stages in the pregnancy. According to the researchers, this could have long-term consequences and may explain why children of women who were obese during pregnancy are more likely to develop obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes in adulthood.

Read: Mothers Gaining Weight Excessively During Pregnancy May Put Newborn Babies At Risk Of Childhood Obesity

“We still don't know what the exact consequences for the foetus are, but the findings match existing research which already suggests that the individual will suffer from these metabolic problems during adulthood," lead study author Dr. Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri said in a press release." This is because changes to the nutrient and oxygen supply, at a stage when individual organs are developing, can cause a permanent change in the structure and function of certain tissues."

Although women are encouraged to increase their calorie intake when pregnant, it's best not to do this by too much. Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

A mother’s weight and diet during pregnancy may also impact her own health, as the study found that female mice fed high-fat and sugar diets developed poor metabolic control toward the end of their pregnancies. This put them at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

While the research was conducted on mice, the team suggest these findings could have applications in human health as well.

"In places like the UK, the US and Australia, many women of child-bearing age are also eating higher amounts of fat and sugar than the National Dietary Recommendations," said Sferruzzi-Perri."We know that obesity during pregnancy is a risk factor for health complications for mother and baby both during and after pregnancy. This study offers insight into the mechanisms operating during pregnancy that may cause this."

Past research has suggested that a mother’s diet even before she gets pregnant could also impact the health of her future children. A 2016 study found that a poor diet can damage the mitochondrial DNA in her unfertilized eggs, a part of the DNA that is responsible for converting food into energy. As a result, this defect can be passed onto her children.

Source:Musial B, Vaughan OR, Fernandez-Twinn DS, et al. A Western-style obesogenic diet alters maternal metabolic physiology with consequences for fetal nutrient acquisition in mice. The Journal of Physiology. 2017

See Also:

Obese Pregnant Women With Poor Diets May Worsen The Childhood Obesity Epidemic: Study

Obesity During Pregnancy 'Rewires' Child's Brain, Increases Risk Of Metabolic Disorders Like Diabetes