Children born to obese mothers carry the risk of disease and increased fat deposits from very early in life, but a new study shows that exercise can almost completely undo the adverse metabolic effects passed down to them.
Obese mothers are more likely to have children with altered central appetite circuits, greater fat deposits, glucose intolerance and metabolic disease, a research team from the University of New South Wales said.
But the team found that exercise was able to dramatically reduce these impacts in juvenile rodents, and the reversal was most pronounced in subjects who exercised and consumed a low-fat diet at the same time.
“What these latest findings on exercise show is that most, if not all, of the negative consequences of maternal obesity can be reversed through voluntary exercise in the next generation,” said study leader Professor Margaret Morris, from UNSW’s School of Medical Sciences.
Offspring from obese female rats were 12% heavier three weeks after birth than other juvenile rats. They also had higher fat deposits, plasma lipids, blood pressure and glucose intolerance. When the pups also ate a high-fat diet the weight gap increased to 37%.
However, when the pups born to obese mothers were allowed to exercise, all of these problems were mitigated. Offspring who ate healthy food as well achieved metabolic levels similar to control rats born to normal weight mothers and raised on standard food.
Professor Morris said eating healthy food alone was not enough to reverse the negative metabolic traits.
“Eating well is obviously a good thing, but exercise is the key. Our previous studies showed that offspring of obese mothers who ate well but were sedentary weren’t able to reverse the metabolic risk factors.”
Louise Baur, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Sydney, said that although the children of obese women carried cardio-metabolic risk from very early in life, the latest study showed that this was not the end of the story.
“Diet and exercise can help get offspring on to a healthier metabolic profile,” Professor Baur said. “No human study has followed up children born to obese mothers and then assigned them to either exercise or not, and seen what has happened.
"This is one of the advantages of rat studies – they have shorter developmental periods and pregnancies, and you can randomise them to different types of dietary intake and exercise far more readily than you can humans.”