A new study conducted by University of Colorado researchers suggests that children of obese mothers are more likely to develop obesity themselves.

Kristen Boyle, an assistant professor at Colorado's School of Medicine, led the investigation on the potential link between the obesity of mothers and their children. While this assumption has been made in previous research, the recent study provides a clear explanation as to why it occurs.

Boyle and her team collected stem cells from umbilical cords of babies of normal-weight and obese mothers that were donated for the research. They then grew the cell samples into muscle and fats cells in a laboratory.

The researchers discovered that the cells grown in the lab from obese mothers had 30 percent more fat compared to those extracted from normal-weight mothers.

The findings suggest that the cells of children of obese mothers could have been programmed to accumulate excess fat while inside the womb of their parents.

It could also mean that these cells could have developed differences in metabolic rates that could then lead to resistance to insulin. This is a condition that is known to increase the potential of an individual to develop type 2 diabetes.

The researchers, however, noted that further studies are needed to find out if the cells of obese mothers have also undergone an alteration in metabolic rates.

"At this point, because this is fairly preliminary, we don't know how these differences in cells grown in the lab correspond to the physiology of these children after birth," Boyle said.

"But it's clear that there is an inherent propensity toward more fat content in the cells from offspring of obese moms, in [lab research]. We also know that the fat accumulation in these cells corresponded to the baby's fat mass at birth. The next step is to follow these offspring to see if there is a lasting change into adulthood."

Dr. Jerome Tolbert, medical director at New York's Mount Sinai Beth Israel, who is not involved in the research, views the findings of the University of Colorado study as a wake-up call for overweight women to plan their pregnancy properly.

"This type of information hopefully would promote overweight women to strive for ideal body weight or to lose as much weight as possible prior to becoming pregnant," Tolbert said.

Tolbert explained that there is likelihood that a genetic predisposition could cause the increase in fat content. This could then contribute to the risk of obesity in the infant.

"The vast majority of women have no idea that they can pass obesity and the risk of other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease to their developing fetus," Tolbert added.

The results of the University of Colorado study are being presented at the 75th Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association. They are viewed as preliminary until the data and conclusions have been peer-reviewed and published in a medical journal.

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