Poor diet before pregnancy could lead to metabolic problems including type 2 diabetes for offspring

It is well established that eating an unhealthy diet during pregnancy may impact the health of a woman's unborn child, but a new study suggests that this effect may extend to before conception.

A team of Danish researchers found that a poor diet in the months leading up to conception may predispose a woman's children to low birth weight and type 2 diabetes.

Low birth weight is considered a metabolic risk factor because children often undergo more rapid growth in their first months and years. This "catch-up growth" makes tissue less sensitive to the effects of insulin. Eventually, a person may become fully resistant to the hormone, precipitating the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Researchers from the University of Aarhus tested the effect of a low-protein diet in a set of laboratory mice. For 10 weeks, a group of females ate this diet before becoming pregnant. After conception, the researchers administered a more healthy diet again.

The results showed that the offspring of these mice were much smaller. They also exhibited signs of catch-up growth, which put them at risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

While the findings in mice do not necessarily mean that the same effect would take place in humans, the researchers said that their findings could have important implications for women who are expecting to become pregnant in the near future.

"If humans respond in the same way as mice to pre-conception diet as well then women should not only consider what they eat during pregnancy but also before pregnancy if they want to reduce the risk of their future children acquiring lifestyle diseases," said Anete Dudele, who led the study.