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Mom’s weight during pregnancy shapes baby’s health

Recent studies link maternal obesity to child’s risk of mental and physical problems

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1:00pm, January 12, 2016
pregnant woman standing on scale

MATERNAL INPUT  Obesity at conception or during pregnancy is a big problem that's getting bigger: New evidence says a child's mental health could be at stake.

When Elinor Sullivan was a postdoctoral fellow at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, she set out to explore the influence of food and exercise habits on obesity. In one experiment, she and her colleagues fed a troop of macaque monkeys regular chow. Other macaques dined American-style, with a hefty 32 percent of calories from fat and ready access to peanut butter treats. Over time, the second group of monkeys grew noticeably fatter.

Then they all had babies.

Sullivan, now at the University of Portland, noticed odd behavior in the plump moms’ offspring. At playtime, they often slinked off by themselves. When handled by keepers, the infants tended to vocalize anxiously, and the males became aggressive. They were prone to repetitive habits, like pacing.

In their carefully controlled world, the only difference between those monkeys and others at the facility was their mothers’ extra pounds and indulgent diet. The behavior was so striking

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