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Link between maternal diet and diabetes risk

8th March 2011

Cambridge researchers have linked the consumption of a poor diet during pregnancy with an increased risk of diabetes in children.

pregnancy

The scientists, from the University of Cambridge, said studies in rats showed imbalances in diet could silence the gene associated with insulin production in the child.

The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While scientists had previously made the connection between a bad diet during pregnancy and future problems for the resulting children, the Cambridge team showed how this might be caused.

The team said that a poor diet could affect how genes in children functioned. A particular gene called Hnf4a is believed to be important in the growth of the pancreas and insulin production.

The researchers gave rats a diet which was low in protein and found increased numbers of offspring with diabetes.

They also discovered that the Hnf4a gene was "switched off" as the rats grew older, which they thought could be the cause of their diabetes.

Dr Susan Ozanne of the University of Cambridge, who lead the study, said more research was needed to see if other types of diet had an effect on rats.

"Having a healthy well-balanced diet any time in your life is important for your health," she said, "but a healthy well-balanced diet during pregnancy is particularly important because of the impact on the baby long-term and potentially even on the grandchildren as well."

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