Parents’ Diet

Topic: Parents’ Diet and Exercise Habits, Even Before Birth, May Contribute to Child’s Well-Being

Physical activity during pregnancy might have long-lasting benefits for a child’s health, new research suggests.

The lifestyles of soon-to-be mothers and fathers could shape the health of their unborn offspring in lasting ways, according to a surprising new animal study of exercise, diet, genetics and parenthood.

The study found that rodent parents-to-be that fatten on a greasy diet before mating produce offspring with sky-high later risks for metabolic problems. But if the mothers stay active during their pregnancies, those risks disappear.

The study involved mice, not people, but does suggest that when a mother exercises during pregnancy, she may help protect her unborn children against the unhealthy effects of their father’s poor eating habits, as well as her own. The findings add to our growing understanding of the ways in which parents influence children’s long-term health, even before birth, and suggest how physical activity during pregnancy might help to ensure that those impacts are beneficial.

Researchers have known for some time that parents, and especially mothers, begin influencing the health and behavior of their offspring well before conception. Studies involving both animals and people show that mothers with diabetes, obesity, insulin resistance or other metabolic problems before pregnancy tend to have babies with a predisposition to those same conditions as adults, even if the offspring follow healthy lifestyles. Mothers who are lean and physically active during pregnancy, meanwhile, tend to have children who, as adults, are active and metabolically healthy.

A hefty percentage of these differences are a result, no doubt, of nurture, since children readily adopt the diet and exercise habits of their parents. But some proportion of babies’ metabolic futures seem hard-wired, built into them as they develop in the womb, through a process that scientists call metabolic programming.

Topic Discussed: Parents’ Diet and Exercise Habits, Even Before Birth, May Contribute to Child’s Well-Being

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