Obesity Prevention Starts in the Womb

Yesterday, at the Second Canadian Student Obesity meeting, currently being held in Ottawa, Kristi Adamo from the University of Ottawa and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario presented the Keynote dinner presentation on “Balancing Work and Life on the Pathway of a Research Scientist“.

Kristi Adamo has a background in nutrition, exercise physiology and genetics of obesity. Her interests lie in the irregular metabolic function associated with childhood obesity and the role diet and exercise may play in predisposition or prevention. She has particular interest in early intervention to prevent child obesity and is focusing on intervening during the gestational period and halting the intergenerational cycle of obesity.

In fact, several of the presentations at this meeting emphasized the fascinating biology of how early fetal development and influences in the first weeks and months after birth can change the lifelong risk for obesity by changing how genes are switched on or off through mechanisms like imprinting and how maternal and environmental influences during this critical period can change how the complex circuitry of appetite and reward are “hardwired” into the brain.

Thus for e.g., Lindsay Naef from McGill University talked about her experiments in rats showing that exposure to high-fat diets during early development results in increased reward value of fatty foods in adult animals or Christian Rueda-Clausen from the University of Alberta, who talked about how intrauterine growth restriction increases the susceptibility to diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance.

For this very reason, other presentations examined interventions to improve diet and physical activity during pregnancy with a focus on limiting weight gain to the levels recommended by the Institute of Medicine and other organisations. As pointed out by Zach Ferraro (one of the student organisers from the University of Ottawa), not only do mothers with overweight and obesity end up gaining far more than the recommended amount of weight during gestation, but that this is also associated with an almost 6-fold higher risk of having a “supersized” baby that will eventually grow into a “supersized” adult.

So while Adamo spoke about her own pursuit of work-life balance by focussing on what she loves doing, she noted that as a mother, her professional interest on the environmental impact of fetal and early postnatal development is quite complementary to her personal goal of raising her own children in the most healthy way possible.

Ottawa, Ontario

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Walker CD, Naef L, d’Asti E, Long H, Xu Z, Moreau A, & Azeddine B (2008). Perinatal maternal fat intake affects metabolism and hippocampal function in the offspring: a potential role for leptin. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1144, 189-202 PMID: 19076377