Mother's diet during pregnancy can affect her child's obesity and type 2 diabetes risk

A woman's diet during pregnancy can cause changes to her unborn child's DNA that may significantly increase its risk of obesity and make it more likely to developing type 2 diabetes during its lifetime, according to new research from the University of Southampton.

The results of the study, which were published in the journal Diabetes, indicate that these genetic changes can occur regardless of a woman's weight during her pregnancy. This contradicts an earlier understanding, which suggested that these types of genetic alterations are more common in the offspring of overweight women.

For the study, the researchers examined the DNA of 300 children at birth and followed their health progression for up to nine years. Their mothers were also surveyed about their diet during pregnancy.

The results showed that women who ate a poor diet while pregnant were more likely to have children with a greater degree of epigenetic changes, DNA alterations that affect the function of certain genes. These children were more likely to be overweight at age 9.

The researchers said that their findings underscore the importance of educating women about the dangers of poor nutrition during pregnancy. Given the fact that obese individuals are much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions, this represents a major public health challenge.

"[The study] strengthens the case for all women of reproductive age having greater access to nutritional, education and lifestyle support to improve the health of the next generation, and to reduce the risk of the conditions such as diabetes and heart disease which often follow obesity," said Mark Hanson, who participated in the research.

The findings provide further evidence of the complex causes of diseases like type 2 diabetes. Rather than simply being the result of either genetics or lifestyle, there may be an intricate web of environmental factors that impact a person's genes and their subsequent disease risk.