Maternal high fat diet consumption during the perinatal period programs offspring behavior

Physiol Behav. 2014 Jan 17;123:236-42. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.07.014. Epub 2012 Oct 17.


The environment that a developing offspring experiences during the perinatal period is markedly influenced by maternal health and diet composition. Evidence from both epidemiological studies and animal models indicates that maternal diet and metabolic status play a critical role in programming the neural circuitry that regulates behavior, resulting in long-term consequences for offspring behavior. Maternal diet and metabolic state influence the behavior of offspring directly by impacting the intrauterine environment and indirectly by modulating maternal behavior. The mechanisms by which maternal diet and metabolic profile shape the perinatal environment remain largely unknown, but recent research has found that increases in inflammatory cytokines, nutrients (glucose and fatty acids), and hormones (insulin and leptin) affect the environment of the developing offspring. Offspring exposed to maternal obesity and high fat diet consumption during development are more susceptible to developing mental health and behavioral disorders such as anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism spectrum disorders. Recent evidence suggests that this increased risk for behavioral disorders is driven by modifications in the development of neural pathways involved in behavioral regulation. In particular, research indicates that the development of the serotonergic system is impacted by exposure to maternal obesity and high fat diet consumption, and this disruption may underlie many of the behavioral disturbances observed in these offspring. Given the high rates of obesity and high fat diet consumption in pregnant women, it is vital to examine the influence that maternal nutrition and metabolic profile have on the developing offspring.

Keywords: Anxiety; Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; Autism spectrum disorders; Depression; Inflammation; Maternal high fat diet; Obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Behavior Disorders / etiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*