Holding Hands with a Newborn Baby

Fatty Liver in the Womb

Is the die already cast for obesity when an infant is born? Maybe not entirely, but in new research this week, we have fresh insight into physiology that can stack the odds before birth. Sobha Puppala and colleagues found that maternal obesity during pregnancy can lead to fatty liver in a fetus. So at birth, infants might already have health risks for obesity.

Primate Research

Researchers randomized female baboons to either a normal diet or a diet high in fat and sugar  at least nine months before pregnancy. Baboons in the latter group could drink all the Kool-Aid they could drink and nearly four times as much of their energy from fat. So before they became pregnant, they developed obesity.

But the point of the study was the impact on the offspring. The researchers found epigenetic changes in response to maternal obesity. Obesity in the mother programmed the offspring for fatty liver disease even before birth. Professor Peter Nathanielsz explains:

It wasn’t until we saw the microscope slides for the staining of liver sections showing very high amounts of lipid in fetuses of obese mothers that we realized the dramatic impact of maternal obesity at such an early developmental time point. Histological analyses of these livers, showing the condition steatosis, underlined the detrimental impact of maternal obesity on the developing fetus.

Is Childhood Too Late for Obesity Prevention?

This is a small study in non-human primates. Such an experiment would not be possible in humans. So it provides some of the most compelling insight we might see into how maternal obesity can set up children for the risks of obesity before they are even born.

It’s little wonder that infant feeding interventions haven’t shown a significant effect on childhood obesity. These findings offer another reason why childhood obesity prevention programs, by themselves, won’t be enough.

Click here for the study, here  and here for the further perspective.

Holding Hands with a Newborn Baby, photograph © Bridget Coila / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


March 9, 2018

One Response to “Fatty Liver in the Womb”

  1. March 09, 2018 at 3:05 pm, David Brown said:

    Not that in order to fatten the animals they had to consume sugar.
    Excerpt: The monkey’s daily diet consists of dried chow pellets, with about one-third of the calories coming from fat, similar to a typical American diet, Dr. Grove said, though the diet also contains adequate protein and nutrients.

    They can eat as many pellets as they want. They also snack daily on a 300-calorie chunk of peanut butter, and are sometimes treated to popcorn or peanuts. Gummy bears were abandoned because they stuck to the monkeys’ teeth.They also drink a fruit-flavored punch with the fructose equivalent of about a can of soda a day. In all, they might consume about twice as many calories as a normal-weight monkey.

    Dr. Grove and researchers at some other centers say the high-fructose corn syrup appears to accelerate the development of obesity and diabetes. “It wasn’t until we added those carbs that we got all those other changes, including those changes in body fat,” said Anthony G. Comuzzie, who helped create an obese baboon colony at the Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/20/health/20monkey.html