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Childhood obesity can be averted by preventing fatty liver in fetus

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 9 March 2018, 11:10 IST

A new study has revealed that childhood obesity can be averted by preventing fatty liver in the fetus.

According to the study conducted by The Physiological Society, an obese pregnant mother and exposure to a high fat, high sugar diet during pregnancy produces a "fatty liver" in the fetus, potentially predisposing children to obesity, metabolic and cardiovascular disorders later in life.

The research aimed to understand the cellular mechanisms involved in laying down fat in the liver of a fetus - leading to a "fatty liver". This knowledge is essential to developing strategies to combat childhood obesity.

Throughout the world, over fifty percent of women of reproductive age are either overweight or obese.

Obesity in pregnant women, combined with intake of high-fat, high-sugar diets during pregnancy predisposes their children to obesity and other chronic metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.

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These complications probably account for a significant proportion of the current epidemic of childhood obesity.

This research aimed to shed light on the mechanisms underlying this link between obese pregnant mothers and obesity in their child called developmental programming, which is currently poorly understood.

This study found that when a fetus develops in an obese pregnant mother, fat accumulates in its liver and many metabolic pathways are disturbed.

This is the first study to report that important recently discovered microRNAs (a DNA product which modifies protein synthesis) play a role in this increased deposition of fat in the liver in our closest relatives, the nonhuman primates.

The observations of this study may explain why children of obese mothers live shorter lives than the offspring of normal weight mothers. While there is always some fat in the liver, when the liver fat increases above normal an individual is said to have a "fatty liver". As the number of liver fat increases, troubles begin.

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If this is dealt with early, it can be reversed, however, if fat deposition persists, the damage can lead to liver scarring and even later life liver cancer. Therefore it is important to understand the early cellular mechanisms involved in laying down the fat early in life while the fetus is developing.

The altered cellular signaling pathways were identified using bioinformatics approaches, and microscopic studies were conducted to quantify the amount of stored fat and sugar present in the liver cells, as well as assessing their shape, which is an indicator of liver cell health.

The researchers plan to now investigate the metabolic and cardiovascular health of monkey offspring of obese mothers, including the liver function at regular intervals across the life course to follow the progress of these fetal changes.

This will allow them to assess whether unwanted consequences of maternal obesity can pass across generations from mother to daughter to grandchildren. They also plan to identify interventions that can reverse these unwanted changes using the same technologies employed in this study.

The findings from the study are published in The Journal of Physiology.

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First published: 9 March 2018, 11:10 IST