New research claims that pregnant or breast-feeding mothers who live on a diet of junk food could cause a lifetime of obesity and ill health for their children.
Scientists found that a mother's poor diet could do long-lasting and irreversible damage to her child, with effects including obesity, raised levels of cholesterol and the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust and carried out at the Royal Veterinary College, London, fit in with observed patterns of children's weight reflecting that of their parents.
'Junk food generation'
Researchers studied the offspring of rats fed a diet of foods such as doughnuts and muffins during pregnancy and lactation. Their progress was compared with that of young rats whose mothers were given a normal healthy diet.
The 'junk food generation' of rats had unusually high levels of cholesterol, as well as raised triglycerides, a harmful type of fat found in the bloodstream. Both are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
The animals also had higher than average levels of glucose and insulin, so they were at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Even when they were switched to a healthy diet, the rats continued to have health problems which lasted beyond adolescence. They stayed fatter than rats whose mothers had eaten healthily.
Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said: "We always have to be cautious when commenting on the results of experiments in animal models of human conditions such as diabetes.
“This study however, does lend some weight to the established argument that children of mothers who have poor diets during pregnancy have a higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease later in life.
We look forward to the results of this research in rats leading to further studies in humans to help prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes."