Babies may start on the road to obesity before or shortly after they’re born, according to a new book that suggests overfeeding early in life can permanently reprogram metabolism.
This suggests early interventions may be needed to significantly reduce obesity.
The book, Fetal and Early Postnatal Programming and its Influence on Adult Health (CRC Press, 2017), which Mulchand Patel, professor of biochemistry at the University at Buffalo and Jens Høiriis Nielsen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen, co-edited, explores the many fetal and immediate postnatal nutritional influences on adult health.
“Our animal studies have shown that overfeeding, or the increased intake of carbohydrate-derived calories during the immediate postnatal period, can reprogram an individual’s metabolism, creating negative health outcomes later in life,” Patel says.
“Our findings…also show that biochemical processes responsible for this metabolic malprogramming during the suckling period in the rat cannot be reversed by moderate calorie restriction in the postweaning period.”
Some current feeding practices in humans, such as providing children with milk formula without restriction (possible overfeeding), and introduction of solid foods typically high in carbohydrates (usually cereals and fruits), may also lead to such metabolic malprogramming.
There is evidence that fetal and early postnatal altered nutritional experience can have long-lasting effects, even resulting in epigenetic (affecting changes in DNA) modifications that will affect not only the person as he or she matures, but also future generations as well.
“The beneficial effects of breastfeeding on reducing childhood obesity, as well as the impact of early nutritional intervention on the gut microbiome, are increasingly being recognized,” Patel says. While breastfeeding enhances the health of individuals as they mature, altered aspects of fetal and early postnatal nutritional experience have more negative consequences.
“It is now well documented that altered nutritional experience during the fetal period (due to maternal malnutrition, obesity, and diabetes) can have a long-lasting impact on metabolic capacities of the offspring, predisposing to the development of adult-onset obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome in adult life.” Patel says.