Experimental animal studies have shown that nicotine exposure during gestation alters the expression of fetal hypothalamic neuropeptides involved in the control of appetite. We aimed to determine whether the exposure to maternal smoking during gestation in humans is associated with an altered feeding behavior of the adult offspring. A longitudinal prospective cohort study was conducted including all births from Ribeirão Preto (São Paulo, Brazil) between 1978 and 1979. At 24 years of age, a representative random sample was re-evaluated and divided into groups exposed (n = 424) or not (n = 1586) to maternal smoking during gestation. Feeding behavior was analyzed using a food frequency questionnaire. Covariance analysis was used for continuous data and the χ2 test for categorical data. Results were adjusted for birth weight ratio, body mass index, gender, physical activity and smoking, as well as maternal and subjects’ schooling. Individuals exposed to maternal smoking during gestation ate more carbohydrates than proteins (as per the carbohydrate-to-protein ratio) than non-exposed individuals. There were no differences in the consumption of the macronutrients themselves. We propose that this adverse fetal life event programs the individual's physiology and metabolism persistently, leading to an altered feeding behavior that could contribute to the development of chronic diseases in the long term.
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