Study Title:

Early Programming of Food Preference and Obesity

Study Abstract

Press Release:

Obesity experts speaking at the Association for the Study of Obesity annual meeting presented recent evidence that nutrition in the womb and in the early years of life could be the lynchpin to determining if children will choose healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and therefore prevent future obesity .

Encouraging children to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and limited fat, sugar and salt has been a focus in public health for some time. Increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables by children has been largely focussed on school based initiatives, which have had limited results. The importance of the early exposure to these flavours on their uptake in early childhood was discussed by Dr Julie Mennella, Monell Chemical Sciences Center, USA. She explained the mounting evidence that suggests there are sensitive periods during inuterine development and infancy that 'program' long term preferences. Foods eaten by the mother flavour the amniotic fluid and the breastmilk with which her infant are exposed. On weaning an infant these repeated exposures to flavours influence acceptance. Acceptance of fruits and vegetables will be determined by whether the child likes the flavour of these foods.

These ideas were further reinforced by Dr Sophie Nicklaus, (INRA, France) who suggested that the exposure to these early flavours could have a positive and negative impact on childhood food preferences, which in themselves determine eating patterns into adulthood. While healthy eating by the mother whilst pregnant and during breastfeeding, and encouraging the uptake of similar foods during weaning can have a positive impact on the child's eating; exposure and uptake of high fat and/or high sugar foods rather than fruits and vegetables may predispose infants to later obesity.

Dr Neil Stickland, Royal Veterinary College, supported these suggestions when describing studies which demonstrated that rats fed on junk food during pregnancy and lactation bred infants who preferred a similar diet, had a much higher appetite and an increased weight gain compared to those whose mothers had been fed a balanced diet during pregnancy. Not only were the 'junk food' infants choosing poorer quality diets, but physiologically they also demonstrated signs of a predisposition to later obesity, such as increased fatness and fewer muscle fibres.

The conference titled 'Early Development and Obesity: food preferences, diet and appetite regulation' was hosted today by the Association for the Study of Obesity, at the University of Liverpool. The conference looked at the genetic, environmental and cultural influences on early feeding preferences and the impact on future obesity. As well as exploring the potential influences of the maternal diet on early feeding habits, scientists discussed genetic and hormonal mechanisms during foetal development on later obesity risk. Dr Peter Bundred, University of Liverpool and Dr Ken Ong, Medical Research Council, Cambridge, also discussed the possibility of rapid infant weight gain on appetite regulation and even the regulation of lean vs fat mass deposition and distribution.

Study Information

Maternal Diet And Early Feeding Practices Key Determinants In Later Food Choices And The Development Of Obesity.
Conference - Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO)
2008 March

Full Study