Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Children’s body fatness linked to decisions made in the womb

Date:
August 22, 2012
Source:
University of Southampton
Summary:
New born human infants have the largest brains among primates, but also the highest proportion of body fat. Before birth, if the supply of nutrients from the mother through the placenta is limited or unbalanced, the developing baby faces a dilemma: should resources be allocated to brain growth, or to fat deposition for use as an energy reserve during the early months after birth? Scientists have shown that this decision could have an effect on how fat we are as children.

New born human infants have the largest brains among primates, but also the highest proportion of body fat. Before birth, if the supply of nutrients from the mother through the placenta is limited or unbalanced, the developing baby faces a dilemma: should resources be allocated to brain growth, or to fat deposition for use as an energy reserve during the early months after birth?

Scientists at the University of Southampton have shown that this decision could have an effect on how fat we are as children.

In new research, published in the journal PLoS ONE on August 22, 2012), scientists at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University, performed ultrasound scans on 381 pregnant women taking part in the Southampton Women's Survey. They measured the blood flow from the placenta to the unborn baby, and the distribution of this blood to either the liver of the baby or bypassing the liver to supply the brain and heart. This was then compared with the infant's body fatness at birth and at four years old.

The findings show that greater blood flow to the baby's liver in late pregnancy was associated with greater body fatness in the infant at birth and at age four. In contrast, lower liver blood flow and a "brain-sparing" blood flow pattern (when the blood bypasses the liver and goes to the brain) occurred when the placenta was smaller and less able to meet baby's demand for essential nutrients in the womb.

These findings were independent of an association between mother's body fatness and the body fatness of her infant.

Keith Godfrey, Professor of Epidemiology and Human Development, at the University who led the study, explains: "In our evolutionary past, the demands of a big brain have led the unborn baby to develop blood flow responses which preserve nutrient delivery to the brain when the supply of essential nutrients from the mother cannot meet the baby's requirements.

"However, having a big brain has also led to evolution of a strategy to adjust blood flow through the baby's liver, which enables the liver to produce more fat -- this acts as an energy reserve, protecting brain development during periods of illness or under-nutrition in early infancy. Our data suggests that evolution of this strategy has brought with it a predisposition to obesity and later diabetes in contemporary societies with abundant nutrition in later postnatal life."

Professors Guttorm Haugen from the University of Oslo and Torvid Kiserud from the University of Bergen were part of the research team. They comment: "An interpretation of our findings is that there could be programmed effects on the liver that arise from blood flow adaptations in the womb and predispose individuals to gain excess body fat. Although further studies are needed, our findings add weight to current concerns that the current epidemic of childhood obesity and associated disorders may partly have its origins through adaptations made by the developing baby during pregnancy."

Professor Mark Hanson, Director of the University of Southampton's Human Development and Health Academic Unit, adds: "If the supply of nutrients across the placenta is inadequate or unbalanced, the unborn baby has to decide whether to prioritise fat deposition or spare brain growth -- it does this by changing the amount of blood flowing to the liver and brain. A decision to increase blood flow to the liver has lasting implications for the child's body fatness.

"Transfer processes across the placenta for some nutrients such as glucose evolved in environments less affluent than those now prevalent in developed populations, and our findings additionally suggest that in circumstances of maternal obesity and nutrient excess these processes now also lead to excessive fat deposition in the womb."

"This strengthens the case for all women of reproductive age having greater access to nutritional, education and lifestyle support to reduce the risk of obesity in their children and improve the health of the next generation."

Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director of the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit comments: "This study is part of a wider body of work by the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit into how factors during pregnancy might have a long-term influence on childhood growth and development. This is a wonderful example of multi-disciplinary research using the unique clinical resource provided by the Southampton Women's Survey."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southampton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Keith M. Godfrey, Guttorm Haugen, Torvid Kiserud, Hazel M. Inskip, Cyrus Cooper, Nicholas C. W. Harvey, Sarah R. Crozier, Sian M. Robinson, Lucy Davies, Mark A. Hanson. Fetal Liver Blood Flow Distribution: Role in Human Developmental Strategy to Prioritize Fat Deposition versus Brain Development. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (8): e41759 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041759

Cite This Page:

University of Southampton. "Children’s body fatness linked to decisions made in the womb." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120822181253.htm>.
University of Southampton. (2012, August 22). Children’s body fatness linked to decisions made in the womb. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120822181253.htm
University of Southampton. "Children’s body fatness linked to decisions made in the womb." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120822181253.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The breakthrough could mean a cure for some serious diseases and even the possibility of human cloning, but it's all still a way off. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups

Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) President Barack Obama gave a briefing Thursday announcing 8 million people have signed up under the Affordable Care Act. He blasted continued Republican efforts to repeal the law. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins