Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley
Woman in early stages of pregnancy reclining on sofa and eating strawberries out of glass bowl, side view.
A pregnant mother's diet could alter the baby's DNA in the womb, increasing its risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in later life, according to an international study that has major implications for public health.
The study provides the first scientific evidence linking pregnant women's diet to childhood obesity, reports AFP.
The study showed that what a mother ate during her pregnancy could change the function of her child's DNA through a process called epignetic change.
Children with a high degree of epignetic change were more likely to develop a metabolism that "lays down more fat" and became obese, researchers found. Such children were about 6 pounds heavier than their peers by the time they were aged six to nine.
The correlation was "very strong," said the study's author.
The author said the rate of epignetic change was possibly linked to a low-carbohydrate diet in the first three months of pregnancy; one theory is that an embryo assumed it would be born into a cabohydrate-poor environment and altered its metabolism accordingly. That is, the embryo stored more fat to use as fuel when food was scarce.
The connection and the theory were not definitive, and researchers say more studies were needed.
Still, the study confirms long-held suspicions that poor prenatal nutrition could have a major impact on adult health.