Different levels of overnutrition and weight gain during pregnancy have differential effects on fetal growth and organ development

Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2010 Jun 24;8:75. doi: 10.1186/1477-7827-8-75.


Background: Nearly 50% of U.S. women of child-bearing age are overweight or obese, conditions linked to offspring obesity and diabetes.

Methods: Utilizing the sheep, females were fed a highly palatable diet at two levels of overfeeding designed to induce different levels of maternal body weight increase and adiposity at conception, and from conception to midgestation. Fetal growth and organ development were then evaluated at midgestation in response to these two different levels of overfeeding. Ewes were fed to achieve: 1) normal weight gain (control, C), 2) overweight (125% of National Research Council [NRC] recommendations, OW125) or 3) obesity (150% of NRC recommendations, OB150) beginning 10 wks prior to breeding and through midgestation. Body fat % and insulin sensitivity were assessed at three points during the study: 1) diet initiation, 2) conception and 3) mid-gestation. Ewes were necropsied and fetuses recovered at mid-gestation (day 78).

Results: OB150 ewes had a higher % body fat than OW125 ewes prior to breeding (P = 0.03), but not at mid-gestation (P = 0.37). Insulin sensitivity decreased from diet initiation to mid-gestation (P = 0.04), and acute insulin response to glucose tended to be greater in OB150 ewes than C ewes (P = 0.09) and was greater than in OW125 ewes (P = 0.02). Fetal crown-rump length, thoracic and abdominal girths, and fetal perirenal fat were increased in the OW125 and OB150 versus C ewes at mid-gestation. However, only fetal heart, pancreas, and liver weights, as well as lipid content of fetal liver, were increased (P < 0.05) in OB150 ewes versus both C and OW125 ewes at midgestation.

Conclusions: These data demonstrate that different levels of overfeeding, resulting in differing levels of maternal weight gain and adiposity prior to and during pregnancy, lead to differential effects on fetal overgrowth and organ development.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / analysis
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Crown-Rump Length
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Organogenesis / physiology*
  • Overnutrition / blood
  • Overnutrition / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / blood
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology*
  • Sheep / embryology
  • Sheep / physiology
  • Weight Gain / physiology*


  • Blood Glucose