Could You Be Passing on Your Muffin Top and Love Handles to Your Baby?

By Sonja Armstrong
Scientifically reviewed by Fathalla Ali, Bsc MSc, MPH and PHD student UNSW
14/10/2020

It’s not just eye colour that gets passed onto your child, or blonde hair, genetic quirk or any other trait we ordinarily associate with heredity. Turns out you can also inherit obesity. As cuddly as a bit of pudge may make you, it could be setting up your child for a malfunctioning metabolism, pre-disposing them to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

You would be forgiven for assuming that these predominantly adult diseases would be the result of your offspring’s choice of diet and lifestyle. And yet, science is revealing that pre-disposition is inheritable and linked to the mother’s gut microbiome. Gut bacteria have a pivotal role in instructing how your metabolism will function and those instructions differ between normal and overweight women (and men for that matter) because their gut bacteria differ. Unfortunately, the gut bacteria in overweight women send instructions to ‘pack on the weight’. Specifically, they alter metabolism by teaching it to be extremely efficient at extracting every gram of energy from food and then storing it up as fat.

This is what is inheritable by your baby, because the mother’s gut microbiome serves as the blueprint for the baby’s, which in turn instructs its metabolism to behave in a similar way to the mother’s. The heavier the mother, the heavier the newborn, thus giving them an unfortunate ‘head start’ in life. One that’s difficult to reverse, because the science has shown that the offspring’s metabolism will impede weight loss even on a calorie restricted diet.

When you also consider the world into which babies born now have ready-access to addictive processed and fast food, coupled with increasingly sedentary lifestyles, growing a healthy-weight child is even more challenging.

And it’s not just the baby who’s at risk, so too is an overweight mother, who’s at greater risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension and preeclampsia. Miscarriage and Caesarean delivery are also more likely.

Given how readily many pregnant women will give up coffee, wine, sushi and soft cheeses for the health of their child we hope this new information will similarly motivate future moms to adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle. While more will be written on this topic, a good place to start is the Mediterranean Diet which has been well studied for its positive impact on the gut microbiome.

Here’s to getting your belly baby ready by giving it the food that will feed the right kind of bacteria. The kind that will give your baby’s metabolism a ‘good education’, maximising their chances of staying lean and free from metabolic disease.

References:

  1. Gohir, W., Ratcliffe, E. & Sloboda, D. Of the bugs that shape us: maternal obesity, the gut microbiome, and long-term disease risk. Pediatr Res 77, 196–204 (2015). Click here
  2. Amati, F., Hassounah, S., & Swaka, A. (2019). The Impact of Mediterranean Dietary Patterns During Pregnancy on Maternal and Offspring Health. Nutrients11(5), 1098. Click here