A mother’s diet while she’s pregnant is known to affect the child’s eventual food preferences. A new animal study from scientists in the U.S. and Brazil examines how a high-fat diet during pregnancy influences the offspring’s predisposition to obesity and related complications later in life, and this appears to be mediated by changes in the endocannabinoid system.
The researchers showed that the biochemical response to a high fat diet depends on whether the offspring was male or female. Male rats displayed many more dysregulated metabolic pathways compared to females. This discrepancy between sexes, with male rats being more sensitive to alterations in endocannabinoid function, is consistently seen in preclinical work. Despite the more apparent effect in males, both sexes had biomarkers suggesting a predisposition to future metabolic disorders.
It’s important to be aware of the potential social consequences of this sort of research. A fetus will be affected by most medical and lifestyle choices, including antidepressant use, which seems to double the risk of autism. But women should not be consigned to producing and raising children. Considering the highly restricted access to abortion in the Americas, along with the lack of medical coverage for contraception in the US, there is a danger in publishing research which can be used to blame mothers for potential harms they could cause to a fetus. This has been particularly problematic with the prosecution of women addicted to drugs.