Adult Obesity Caused By Childhood Diet

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A research team in Cambridge has been awarded nearly £139,000 by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to find out if obesity in later life may be caused by the way appetite develops in new born babies.

Until now there has been little research looking at the possibility that obesity – a major risk factor for Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) – might be linked to the content of diet at an early age. The Cambridge researchers think that the nerves and hormones that control appetite may develop differently depending on the type of food eaten, which may in turn effect the way we eat in later life.

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The research team will feed one set of new born rats with a standard diet, and then feed another set with a high calorie diet, to find out how the body develops differently in the two groups. Once the differences have been identified, scientists hope that in the long term it will help determine the best diet to feed babies to promote healthy weight in adult life.

There is already evidence to suggest that the rate of development in a newborn baby may have long-term health effects. Babies who are born small are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Research has shown that being underweight at birth, followed by rapid growth to an average weight by the age of seven, also increases risk of CHD.

Professor Hales, lead researcher for the BHF project, says: “We hope to find out if the way the body digests food is controlled by appetite development at a very early stage in life. Once this has been established, the next step will be to see if the same is true in humans. Hopefully, in the long term, this will help us find new ways to prevent obesity and reduce deaths from Coronary Heart Disease.”

Levels of obesity in the UK have doubled since the 1970s and are now approaching those of the United States. Obesity is closely linked to physical inactivity and together these factors account for nearly half of all deaths from CHD. Obesity is also closely linked to high blood pressure and diabetes, which are also key risk factors for CHD.

Professor Sir Charles George, Medical Director at the BHF, says: “Obesity is an increasing problem in the UK. It is well established that diet is closely linked to weight and subsequently the development of coronary heart disease. We look forward to the results of this research which will tell us more about the way appetite is controlled. Eventually this could help parents and their children choose foods that may help them avoid obesity in later life.”

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