Is Obesity and Diabetes Passed On to the Next Generation?

The evidence is clear that the children of obese parents are prone to obesity themselves, placing them at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, but how and why this occurs remains under investigation. A study being presented at the American Diabetes Association’s 75th Scientific Sessions found evidence suggesting that the in utero environment in obese mothers may program a child’s cells to accumulate extra fat or develop differences in metabolism that could lead to insulin resistance.

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“One of the questions that needs to be explored is how children of obese mothers may be at risk for becoming obese as a result of factors that occur even before they are born,” said Kristen E. Boyle, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Our study looked at the mechanism by which children may be preprogrammed for increased obesity risk, because of changes occurring in utero.”

ThinkstockPhotos-477519439 Boyle and her team took stem cells from donated umbilical cords of the babies of normal-weight and obese mothers and grew them into fat and muscle cells in the lab. They found a 30 percent higher fat content in both types of cells in the offspring of mothers who were obese at their first prenatal visit, compared to the cells of offspring of normal-weight moms. They are continuing to evaluate the data to determine if these cells likewise show evidence of altered metabolism.