Mom’s fat and sugar diet during pregnancy linked to offspring’s taste for drugs, alcohol

Rat study suggests too much fat and
sugar during pregnancy could lead to
addictive behaviors for offspring.
Eating a high sugar and fat diet during pregnancy was found in animal studies to raise the chances of drug and alcohol abuse for offspring. According to psychologists, obesity, drug and alcohol abuse could start in the womb as a result of diet during pregnancy.

The finding is one more addition to a string of research that shows lifelong health starts in the womb.

Nicole Avena, PhD, a research neuroscientist with the University of Florida's McKnight Brain Institute studied rats to reach the conclusion.

Dr. Avena explains most women of child-bearing age in the U.S. are already overweight. She suggests there may be a correlation between rates of obesity among women and the high number of youth who are also obese and abuse drugs and alcohol.

“The rise in prenatal and childhood obesity and the rise in number of youths abusing alcohol and drugs merits looking into all the possible roots of these growing problems,” Avena said in an APA press release.

The study

For the investigation, the researchers fed pregnant rats either a regular diet or one that was high in fat and sugar for comparison.

Avena, who presented her findings at the American Psychological Association’s 121st Annual Convention, examined experiments from three trials.

The research also looked at how types of sugar might differ. One group of the pregnant rodents were given a diet of regular food and a 10 percent sucrose or natural sugar solution and the other regular chow plus a 16 percent high fructose corn syrup mixture.

To figure out the effect of a high fat, high sugar diet during pregnancy on offspring, rat pups given a high sucrose, high corn syrup, 50 percent fat diet nurses from mothers given regular chow when they were pregnant.

To understand the effects of mother’s diet during nursing, pups of mother’s who ate regular food nursed from rats given a high fat and sugar diet.

The final results, compared to rat pups whose mother’s ate regular food showed:

  • Pups nursed by rats that ate a high sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup diet when pregnant drank more alcohol than the group whose mom’s did not have sugar and weighed significantly more at the end of the study.
  • Sugar consumed by rat mothers’ during pregnancy or when nursing led to the offspring becoming hyperactive in response to low dose amphetamine, suggesting sensitivity to the stimulant.

The study finding is in line with past research showing eating a high fat, high sugar diet can lead to  junk food addiction in children because the foods stimulate the brain’s reward system, Avena said.

The analysis suggests mothers who eat a high fat, high sugar diet during pregnancy could be setting their offspring up for a drug and alcohol problems in addition to obesity.