Pregnant mothers’ children may be drawn to fatty foods

Dr. Zdenka Pausova, Principal Investigator of the study and Scientist in Physiology & Experimental Medicine at SickKids first identified the relationship between maternal smoking and child obesity in a 2010 study. “We took this study a step further and explored some potential underlying mechanisms at play by examining the children’s diet and structural variations in brain regions that processes reward.”

The research team examined 378 adolescents age 13 to 19 years. Participants were grouped as exposed to maternal smoking or non-exposed to maternal smoking and did not differ by sex, age, puberty stage or height. The authors defined ‘exposed’ as having a mother who smoked more than one cigarette a day during the second trimester of pregnancy, and ‘non-exposed’ as having a mother who did not smoke at least one year before (and throughout) the pregnancy.

Participants who had been exposed to smoking during pregnancy exhibited significantly lower volumes of amydala but a higher total body fat and fat intake then non-exposed participants. Researchers suggest that exposure to prenatal cigarette smoke may reduce amygdala volume and, perhaps, through this effect increase the individual’s intake of fat and risk for obesity.

This study was supported by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Heart & Stroke Foundation of Quebec, Canadian Foundation for Innovation and SickKids Foundation.

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).