TIME Obesity

How Obese Moms May Wire Kids for Obesity

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Kids of obese moms are more likely to be obese, and the latest research suggests that influence may begin in the womb

In a report presented Tuesday at the American Diabetes Association, researchers say that children born to obese moms may be predisposed to being obese due to their womb environment.

Scientists led by a team at University of Colorado School of Medicine analyzed stem cells taken from the umbilical cords of babies born to normal weight and obese mothers. In the lab, they coaxed these stem cells to develop into muscle and fat. The resulting cells from obese mothers had 30% more fat than those from normal weight mothers, suggesting that these babies’ cells were more likely to accumulate fat.

Whether that means the infants are more likely to become obese and develop the chronic conditions associated with excessive weight gain, such as heart disease and diabetes, isn’t clear yet, but the early changes are worth investigating further as possible risk factors for childhood obesity. “The next step is to follow these offspring to see if thee is a lasting change into adulthood,” says the lead presenter, Kristen Boyle, in a statement. She and her colleagues are already studying the cells to see whether they use and store energy any differently from those obtained from normal-weight mothers, and whether those changes result in metabolic differences such as inflammation or insulin resistance, which can precede heart disease and diabetes.

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