Effects of a high-fat diet cross GENERATIONS: Bad eating habits can lead to addictive behaviors in your grandchildren
12/18/2018 // Tracey Watson // Views

When we think of the legacy we hand to our children, most of us think in terms of a good education or a healthy bank balance. Unfortunately, it is not always only good things that we leave behind for future generations. The choices we make when it comes to health and lifestyle can also have a lasting impact on our children and grandchildren – an impact which can be either good or bad.

This point was once again driven home by a recent study which found that mice fed on a high fat diet can pass down obesity, addictive behaviors and insulin resistance to the next three generations of their offspring. The study was conducted by researchers from ETH Zurich and published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

One of the reasons that mice and rats are used in clinical trials is because their behavior, genetics and biological characteristics are incredibly similar to those of humans. It is logical, therefore, that overweight humans who make poor lifestyle choices will pass on the results of these choices to their offspring in much the same way. (Related: Healthy diet before pregnancy significantly lowers risk of having preterm birth later.)

Generations of victims

As reported by Science Daily, researchers are keenly interested in trying to understand the causes of the current obesity epidemic in order to prevent it in future generations. Previous studies had already confirmed that maternal diet before, during and after pregnancy can have a direct effect on obesity and diabetes risk on the immediate offspring, but this study strove to examine its effects on even later generations. (Related: Diet soda consumption during pregnancy leads to OBESE children.)

The research team used mice who were themselves not obese but who were fed a high fat diet pre- and post-pregnancy. Science Daily explained:

The authors investigated these effects specifically for transmission via male offspring up until, and including, the third generation. To do so, they fed female mice either high-fat diet or a standard laboratory diet for nine weeks -- pre-mating, during pregnancy and during lactation. Their male offspring were then mated with females that had been fed a standard laboratory diet to generate the second-generation offspring. The male offspring of these mice was again mated with females that had been fed a standard laboratory diet to generate the third-generation offspring.

The researchers took several measurements from these second and third generation offspring, including body weight, insulin sensitivity and cholesterol levels. They also compared the behavior of the rats on the high fat diet and those in the control group by testing to see whether they would choose a standard or high fat diet, and whether they would choose to drink plain water or an alcohol solution.

Science Daily outlined the results:

[S]econd generation offspring -- grandchildren of mice that had consumed a high-fat diet before, during and after pregnancy showed addictive-like behaviors such as increased sensitivity and preference for drugs, as well as characteristics of obesity, including changes in their metabolism. In third generation offspring (the great grandchildren), the authors observed differences between males and females, with only females showing addictive-like behaviors and only males showing obesity characteristics.

Every choice matters

The results of this study are sobering. They reinforce the need for us to reject mindless eating and a sedentary lifestyle in favor of a nutrient-dense, unprocessed diet and regular, moderate exercise. Those planning a family should be particularly mindful that every choice the mother-to-be makes regarding what she puts in her mouth will affect her children and her children’s children for generations to come. Learn more about issues like this at WomensHealth.news.

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