What mummy finds yummy
Mothers are well known for lecturing their long-suffering children. If it is not along the lines of, â€œDo you know how much a child in Africa would appreciate that [insert dinner/clothing item/toy]?â€ then it is, â€œNo, you canâ€™t have another [insert junk food of choice], itâ€™s not good for you.â€ This is sound enough advice usually but what if, for instance, the desire for junk food was created in the child by the diet of the mother?
This idea has been explored by researchers at the University of Adelaide. For their experiment the researchers had two groups of rats. One group was fed a standard â€œrat chowâ€ while the other was given a diet high in human junk foods that are loaded with sugar and fat.
Once the mouse pups had been weaned they were allowed to select their own diet from a choice of rat chow or junk food.
What resulted was that rats whose mothers had been fed junk food chose to eat more of the junk food than the other group who tended to prefer the rat chow. It was also found that the pups of mothers who ate junk food had higher levels of in-built feel-good chemicals (opioids) in their brains as well as more receptors for these opioids. So it would seem that mothers who eat junk food during pregnancy are disposing their children to a taste, or even a need, for junk food. That is, assuming that the results translate across to humans.
The theory is that this happens because the high fat and sugar diet actually leads to physical changes in the reward pathways of the foetusâ€™ brain. This might be one factor in the obesity epidemic that threatens our children and it may also explain why some people can resist junk food while others become addicted.
The real concern though is that it gives children an immediate and stinging riposte the next time mum tells them they canâ€™t have a burger and deep-fried Mars bar. â€œWell you made me want it!â€ will be the biting reply from the ravenous child. This might be one that we will keep from the kids, hmmm!