Pregnant women are often asked by their well-meaning friends if they are "eating for two". Though the volume of food being eaten by mums-to-be is of some concern, the more critical factor to consider is if the expectant mothers are "eating right".
In other words, the quality rather than quantity is something they should think about.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Toxicology Unit at the University of Leicester have conducted research that clearly indicates that when the fetus is exposed to poor nutrition in the womb, it is more likely to develop health conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, age-related neural degeneration later in life. (1)
The study was conducted on both humans and rats. The factor that decides predisposition to diabetes later in life comes from a molecule that enables bodies to store fat in different regions.
It was observed that fetuses that were exposed to poor diet in their mother's wombs produced higher levels of this molecule than those fetuses who were better nourished.
So how does this molecule do that? This molecule works by suppressing a protein called GDF3. On studying a group of adult humans who were born with a low birth weight, the researchers found that GDF3 protein was present at around only 30 percent of the levels found in people born at a normal weight. (2)
Experiments on rats showed that a rat fetus exposed to poor nutrition got the fat storage factor incorrectly. After metabolization of food the fat was stored in the liver and around the abdomen, predisposing rats to develop overweight- and obesity-related conditions later. The rat model is considered fairly parallel to human systems for scientific studies.
According to Professor Willis, Director of the MRC Toxicology Unit, “Improving people's diets and encouraging exercise is clearly the best way to combat the epidemic of diabetes and diet-related disease which is sweeping through our society. However some people are at particular risk of these diseases, despite not looking visibly overweight.