Child obesity is more likely to occur if women fall pregnant whilst dieting, new research from the University of Manchester suggests.
A study carried out on sheep found that lambs whose mothers received less food at the time of conception experienced changes in the structure of their DNA relating to food intake.
Anne White, professor of Endocrine Sciences at Manchester University, said: “The changes we have found are in genes that control food intake and glucose levels and alterations in these genes may lead to obesity and diabetes.”
Unlike previous studies, the research suggests that obesity is not a hereditary genetic condition, but a result of factors occurring during the developmental stage of pregnancy.
Professor White added: “This is not an inherited change in the genes but a change in the structure of the DNA that affects the genes, and therefore much more unusual.”
Mervi Jokinen, Practice and Standards Advisor for the Royal College of Midwives, said dieting during pregnancy would inadvertently affect the child’s development.
She said: “We wouldn’t ever want to see drastic dieting during pregnancy. In general we wouldn’t want to see women losing weight during pregnancy.”
The study comes amidst an increase in the number of women dieting in our image-conscious society, and it is arguably more likely than ever that women could fall pregnant while restricting their calorie intake.
Ms. Jokinen said that the numbers of underweight women who are pregnant are increasing. She said: “It is as much of a concern as obesity. It is a result of being part of a generation where being thinner is seen as more desirable.”
Councils are expected to deter obesity after Health Secretary Andrew Lansley chose to grant them more than £2billion and is encouraging them to have greater responsibility over public health policy.
Figures suggest that Greater Manchester has some of the worst child obesity rates in the country. A local quango, the Greater Manchester Health Commission, has forecasted that more than 1.7million Greater Manchester residents will be overweight by 2020.