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Maternal Diet During Pregnancy Connected to Weight and Behavior of Offspring

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Animal studies also identified an increased depression-like behavior in mothers that consumed high-fat diets

The offspring of mothers that consumed inflammation-causing high-fat diet s during pregnancy and breastfeeding weighed more and showed increased depression-like behaviors as adults , according to new animal research presented November 17 at Neuroscience 2014, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

“Maternal obesity during pregnancy can ‘program’ children for increased obesity themselves, thus setting in motion a vicious cycle of ongoing health problems,” said senior author Staci Bilbo, PhD, of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “Our research suggests that these health problems include anxiety and depression, for both mothers and their children, and hyperactivity for male offspring.”

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in many areas of the world, with more than 1 billion people overweight or obese , including more than 40 million children, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, 69 percent of adults are overweight and 35 percent are obese.

 Previous animal research by Bilbo and her colleagues has suggested that the depression, anxiety, and other negative behavioral effects associated with diets high in fat and supplemented with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) — proteins that are found in high quantities in meat, dairy products, and other protein - rich foods — may be related to increased inflammation of brain cells. In their new study, Bilbo and her colleagues put groups of pregnant mice on different diets, including one that was both high in saturated fat and supplemented with BCAA.

The researchers found that the pregnant mice on the BCAA-supplemented , high-fat diet displayed depressive-like behavior one week after giving birth. In addition, the offspring of the animals on a high - fat diet showed increased depression- and anxiety-like behavior when they reached adulthood — even if they were put on a low-fat diet immediately after weaning or if their mothers’ high-fat diet had not been supplemented with BCAAs. Hyperactivity was also observed in male, but not female, offspring, suggesting that the long-term effects of a mother’s diet during pregnancy and breast feeding may affect female and male offspring differently.

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Society for Neuroscience press release