How does hunger in one generation affect the health of offspring?

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Andrew Steer

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Andrew Steer  asked the Naked Scientists:

I'm not sure whether it was on The Naked Scientists or one of the other BBC science podcasts, but...

Within the past month I remember hearing a story about an experience of  shortage of food in one generation being carried through genes and being  expressed as a makeup (genetic or whatever) which is more resilient to  food-shortages in the next-but-one generation.  (there were probably some mouse studies or something!)

It just occurred to me this morning, when we keep hearing about this
obesity 'epidemic' in the present generation of young people if there might  be a connection.

What I'm suggesting is that the present generation would  have had grandparents who grew up in the war and post-war period when food  was scarce.

Could this lead to the present generation metabolising food  more efficiently and therefore being more prone to weight-gain? Obviously I don't doubt that the traditional reasoning of increasing  sedentary lifestyles and changing eating habits have a major role to play,  but I just thought this connection might be interesting.

What do you think?



What do you think?


Offline RD

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Quote from: Andrew Steer  link=topic=15256.msg179802#msg179802 date=1213692446
Andrew Steer  asked the Naked Scientists:
Within the past month I remember hearing a story about an experience of  shortage of food in one generation being carried through genes and being  expressed as a makeup (genetic or whatever) which is more resilient to  food-shortages in the next-but-one generation.
What do you think?

I think you are referring to epigenetics...
Toward the end of World War II, a German-imposed food embargo in western Holland--a densely populated area already suffering from scarce food supplies, ruined agricultural lands, and the onset of an unusually harsh winter--led to the death by starvation of some 30,000 people. Detailed birth records collected during that so-called Dutch Hunger Winter have provided scientists with useful data for analyzing the long-term health effects of prenatal exposure to famine. Not only have researchers linked such exposure to a range of developmental and adult disorders, including low birth weight, diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease, breast and other cancers, but at least one group has also associated exposure with the birth of smaller-than-normal grandchildren. The finding is remarkable because it suggests that a pregnant mother's diet can affect her health in such a way that not only her children but her grandchildren (and possibly great-grandchildren, etc.) inherit the same health problems.
« Last Edit: 17/06/2008 10:32:12 by RD »


Offline Nicci

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My grandparents were survivors of the Polish and German concentration camps. They grew up in a severely deprived environment and lacked the basic nutrition that we take for granted today. During the 50's and 60's when food was plentiful and they had kids of their own, they wasted no time making sure that their children never had to experience hunger. It became somewhat of an obsession. As a result they nurtured 6 obese children who became 6 obese adults who passed on their eating habits to their children. Fortunately all of the above decided to change their eating habits and as a result got rid of high cholesterol, high blood sugar and excess weight. What this suggests is that all we inherit is patterns and habits from our parents.  There is a school of thought that suggests that the fetus is experiences and feels what the mother senses and feels. We are hard wired to survive at all costs, if a generation of people are brought up in a milieu of deprivation, their offspring will be "better survivors". In other words, good at storing fat. However I do not believe that there should ever be an excuse for obesity or lifestyle related disease. We all have choices as to whether or not we eat calorie dense foods and whether or not we exercise.