The average American diet has 37% fat content. The recommended amount is 25-35% according to the 2010 dietary guidelines. Four studies have shown the bad impact that high fat consumption during pregnancy has on the fetus.
Other studies demonstrated that a high fat diet in the pregnant mother causes the down-regulation of oxytocin systems in the brain of offspring and causes anxiety to be prevalant in the progeny. This effect does not occur in the pups of normal fed pregnant female rats. In this study it was found that the fewer numbers of oxytocin-positive neurons within the PVN (paraventricular nucleus), the more anxious the rats were as adults. Oxytocin projections to the brainstem acts as an appetite suppressant, hence leading to overeating in the progeny of overfed pregnant females. Oxytocin also plays a role in maternal behaviors as well. Mother rats literally groom their daughters to be attentive or neglectful mothers themselves and this is associated with the presence of normal numbers of oxytocin projections. If a rat has fewer oxytocin projections, they will be neglectful parents more likely. Hence multiple pathways of brain function may be affected in the young of a high-fat diet mother. Here is a link: http://www.abstractsonline.com/Plan/ViewAbstract.aspx?sKey=93a801db-9e49-4d58-b917-97948ec69a18&cKey=74611e5c-0fa7-4ff0-9276-b94be31da2df&mKey=54c85d94-6d69-4b09-afaa-502c0e680ca7
These effects also occur in primate studies as well – monkeys whose mothers are fed high fat diets have fewer dopamine projections to the nucleus accumbens ‘reward center’ of the brain. As a result, they have a reward deficiency when they eat food and don’t get satiated at a normal level of food. Rather, they must take in more food to get the same amount of reward as another monkey that came from a normal-fed mother and had normal dopamine projections in the brain. Thus they get fatter.
We eat more than we think. We need to recognize that our food choices and stress patterns can affect our children through epigenetic mechanisms especially. We can set up our children for failure. These studies are done in standard models for humans and show the impact high fat diets in pregnancy have on their children: Memory deficits, anxiety, depression, and future weight problems may echo the studies in rat and monkey populations. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, for it seems that overweight parents have overweight children. Food for thought!!