As if pregnant women weren’t inundated by health advice already, a new study in The Journal of Physiology suggests that a poor diet in the womb might have long lasting health effects on the child.
The experiment found that rats whose mothers were fed fatty, processed foods during pregnancy had high levels of fat in the bloodstream even after adolescence, and despite switching to healthier grub. (Not that breaking the habit is easy; the same team showed previously that you might crave the snacks you had in the womb.)
Translation: If mom gobbles Doritos and swigs cokes throughout pregnancy, baby—or teenager—might have a greater chance of developing Type II diabetes. No big shocker there.
Lots of other studies have had similar findings about the importance of diet during pregnancy. Scientists from the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute in the U.S. found that non-human primates whose mothers ate a diet of 35 percent fat developed non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Preliminary results from a Nottingham University study showed that babies were likely to be fatter if their mothers ate less during the last month of pregnancy. The baby copes by developing a more efficient metabolism, thus putting on pounds when food is no longer scarce. There’s even research that suggests what a woman eats before she’s pregnant will affect a baby’s health. Taking folic acid supplements for at least a year before pregnancy reduces a woman’s chances for very early premature births by 70 percent, according to one study.
Still, one detail from the new study stood out: Male and female offspring responded differently to unhealthy diets in the womb. Male rats managed to have higher levels of insulin and normal blood sugar, while female rats experienced the opposite and tended to be fatter.
So, ladies, lay off the junk food. And if you can’t, just blame mom.