Obesity is generally associated with high intake of junk foods rich in energy, fat, sugar and salt combined with a dysfunctional control of appetite and lack of exercise. There is some evidence to suggest that appetite and body mass can be influenced by maternal food intake during the fetal and suckling life of an individual. However, the influence of a maternal junk food diet during pregnancy and lactation on the feeding behaviour and weight gain of the offspring remains largely uncharacterised. In this study, six groups of rats were fed either rodent chow alone or with a junk food diet during gestation, lactation and/or post-weaning. The daily food intakes and body mass were measured in forty-two pregnant and lactating mothers as well as in 216 offspring from weaning up to 10 weeks of age. Results showed that 10 week-old rats born to mothers fed the junk food diet during gestation and lactation developed an exacerbated preference for fatty, sugary and salty foods at the expense of protein-rich foods when compared with offspring fed a balanced chow diet prior to weaning or during lactation alone. Male and female offspring exposed to the junk food diet throughout the study also exhibited increased body weight and BMI compared with all other offspring. This study shows that a maternal junk food diet during pregnancy and lactation may be an important contributing factor in the development of obesity.
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