Maternal nutritional history predicts obesity in adult offspring independent of postnatal diet

J Physiol. 2009 Feb 15;587(Pt 4):905-15. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2008.163477. Epub 2008 Dec 22.


Significant alterations in maternal nutrition may induce long-term metabolic consequences in offspring, in particular obesity and leptin and insulin resistance. Although maternal nutrient deprivation has been well characterized in this context, there is a relative paucity of data on how high fat (HF) nutrition impacts on the subsequent generation. The present study investigated the effects of maternal HF nutrition either throughout the mother's life up to and including pregnancy and lactation or HF nutrition restricted to pregnancy and lactation, on growth and metabolic parameters in male and female offspring. Virgin Wistar rats were assigned to one of three experimental groups: (1) controls (Cont): dams fed a standard chow diet throughout their life and throughout pregnancy and lactation; (2) maternal high fat (MHF) group: dams fed a HF diet from weaning up to and throughout pregnancy and lactation; and (3) pregnancy and lactation high fat (PLHF): dams fed a chow diet through their life until conception and then fed a HF diet throughout pregnancy and lactation. At weaning, all offspring were fed either a chow or HF diet for the remainder of the study (160 days). Litter size and sex ratios were not significantly different between the groups. MHF and PLHF offspring had significantly lower body weights and were hypoleptinaemic and hypoinsulinaemic at birth compared to Cont offspring. As adults however, chow-fed MHF and PLHF offspring were significantly more obese than Cont offspring (DEXA scanning at day 150, P < 0.001 for maternal HF diet). As expected a postweaning HF diet resulted in increased adiposity in all groups; MHF and PLHF offspring, however, always remained significantly more obese than Cont offspring. Increased adiposity in MHF and PLHF offspring was paralleled by hyperinsulinaemia and hyperleptinaemia (P < 0.001; MHF and PLHF versus Cont). It is of interest that a lifetime of HF nutrition produced a similar offspring phenotype to HF nutrition restricted to pregnancy and lactation alone, thus suggesting that the postnatal sequelae of maternal HF nutrition occurs independent of preconceptional diet. These data further reinforce the importance of maternal nutrition during these critical windows of development and show that maternal HF feeding can induce a markedly obese phenotype in male and female offspring completely independent of postnatal nutrition.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / blood
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / etiology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*
  • Prenatal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Dietary Fats