Lifestyle & Belief

Dieting during pregnancy may alter baby's DNA


A woman (L) walks past a model showing a human fetus (C), which forms part of the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition Da Vinci Secrets "Anatomy to Robots" at the Sydney Town Hall on May 20, 2010.


Greg Wood

A woman's diet during pregnancy can alter her baby's DNA in the womb, increasing its risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in later life, an international study has found.

It is thought that a developing baby tries to predict the environment it will be born into, taking cues from its mother and adjusting its DNA.

A study published in the journal Diabetes showed that eating low levels of carbohydrate changed bits of DNA. It then showed children with these changes were fatter.

To reach the findings, scientists in Britain, New Zealand and Singapore took samples from the umbilical cord and looked for "epigenetic markers."

They showed that mothers with early pregnancy diets low in carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch, had children with these markers, the BBC reports.

Children with a high degree of epigenetic change were more likely to develop a metabolism that ''lays down more fat'' and become obese. Such children were about three kilograms heavier than their peers by the time they were aged six to nine, Peter Gluckman of the Liggins institute at Auckland said, Agence France-Presse reported.

''That's a hell of a lot of extra weight at that age,'' he said, adding that the extra fat was likely to be carried into adulthood, raising the chances of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

''This ... gives us the potential to work out the optimal diet a mother should eat,'' Gluckman reportedly said.