New data presented at Obesity Week 2014 suggest that a high-fat diet during pregnancy and while breastfeeding may adversely affect brain function, behavior and body composition in children.

In one study, Kellie Tamashiro, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University, and colleagues evaluated the effect of a high-fat maternal diet in rats.

Twenty-four pregnant rats were included in the study, 12 of which were fed standard chow and 12 of which were fed a high-fat diet similar to the typical American diet.

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The rat offspring born to mothers on a high-fat diet had impaired glucose tolerance and were less responsive to a standard appetite suppressant. They also demonstrated a preference for high-fat foods in addition to weighing more, eating more and being less physically active, according to the study results.

Further, the offspring of mothers fed a high-fat diet exhibited impaired object recognition, with male offspring also showing altered gene expression in the hippocampus that persisted through adulthood. The researchers noted similar results in female offspring.

In a separate study also presented at the meeting, researchers reported on the impact of maternal obesity and its influence on child body composition during the first 6 years of life. 

Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences prospectively investigated the association between maternal BMI and offspring body composition at ages 3, 6, 9, 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 and 72 months.

The researchers tracked 328 mother-infant pairs and analyzed body fat percentage and bone mineral density (BMD). The investigators controlled for gestational age, birth weight, sex, race and early infant feeding.  

They found there were significant differences in fat mass, fat free mass, trunk fat mass and peripheral fat mass among children born to lean, overweight or obese mothers. There was a clear trend toward higher adiposity in children born to obese mothers throughout childhood (P<.05).