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Prenatal fries, supersized offspring?

Healthy eating by pregnant women may be more important than previously believed for the long-term health, and health habits, of their children.

If you fuel your pregnancy with the Dollar Menu at Micky D's, what to expect when you're expecting might be a child who grows up with a junk food habit. New research suggests eating well during pregnancy is even more important that previously believed.

New research from Australia suggests that pregnant mothers who consume junk food actually cause changes in the development of the opioid-signaling pathway in the brains of their unborn children. The alteration makes babies less sensitive to the opioids released when fatty, sugary foods are consumed. Consequently, babies born with a higher “tolerance” to junk food need to eat more of it to achieve a “feel good” response. Their cravings, in essence, may be supersized. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology published the study in the March issue of their FASEB Journal.

"The results of this research will ultimately allow us to better inform pregnant women about the lasting effect their diet has on the development of their child's lifelong good preferences and risk of metabolic disease," said Beverly Muhlhausler, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the FOODplus Research Centre at the School of Agriculture Food and Wine at The University of Adelaide in Australia, in a release. "Hopefully, this will encourage mothers to make healthier diet choices which will lead to healthier children." The research involved rats, opioid blockers and apparently the snack food aisle of the Aussie equivalent of 7-Eleven.

"This study shows that addiction to junk food is true addiction," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "Junk food engages the same body chemistry as opium, morphine or heroin. Sad to say, junk food during pregnancy turns the kids into junk food junkies." Once, a junk food junkie, it seems it's harder than 12 steps to overcome the addiction when surrounded by temptation in stores and the media. For more, check out Michael Moss's story in the New York Times magazine adapted from his upcoming book “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.”

A study published 2007 carried out by a team at the Royal Veterinary College, London, showed that rodents which ate a diet rich in fat, sugar and salt while pregnant were more likely to give birth to offspring that overate and had a preference for junk food when compared to the offspring of rats given regular feed. In a follow-up study published in The Journal of Physiology, the researchers showed that a mother's diet has an effect lasting beyond adolescence in the rats, even when the offspring were weaned off the junk food, affecting how their bodies metabolise the food and suggesting a long term health impact.

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