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Toddlers Diet May Have Lifetime Impact on Health

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Childhood Diet

According to new research from University of Calgary, what we eat in early childhood may have a lifelong impact on health. Scientists, in a surprising study, have found a direct link to food consumption as toddlers, and weight gain in adulthood. The seemingly innocuous act of giving your child a cheeseburger may set the stage for obesity, diabetes and heart disease in adulthood.

Faculty of Kinesiology researcher Dr. Raylene Reimer conducted the research. Dr. Reimer is one of the leading scientists who studies the origins of health and disease, or epigenetics, a blossoming area of health research.

Dr. Reimer explains, "My research has shown that the food we eat changes how active certain genes in our body are – what we call genetic expression. In particular, we believe that our diet has a direct influence on the genes that control how our bodies store and use nutrients. "There's a growing body of work that indicates a relationship between our health as adults and our early diet, and even our mother's diet. This research shows for the first time that our early childhood diet may have a huge impact on our health as adults."

The study is published in the London Journal of Physiology. The researchers examined the impact of diet in three groups of very young rats, providing them with three separate diets after weaning. One group received a high protein the second, a high fiber diet, and the third a control diet. When the rats reached adulthood, they were fed a typical Western diet consisting of high fat and sugar.

The surprising results showed that the rats that were given a high fiber diet when they were young, put on very little weight and body fat, when compared to the rats raised on a high protein diet.

Dr. Reimer believes the study…" clearly shows that the composition of early childhood diet may have a direct lifelong impact on genes that control metabolism and obesity risk. This study clearly indicates that diet composition alone can change the trajectory of circulating satiety hormones and metabolic pathways that influence how we gain weight or control blood sugar as adults."

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In an accompanying conversation with Dr. Reimer, she discusses how diet changes the way our genes are expressed:

"For example we know that eating a high fiber diet increases your expression of the proglucagon gene. This gene is then used in thebody to make a hormone that decreases your food intake. In terms of diet's influence on epigenetics (which really means changes in addition to genetics) it changes the way the DNA code can be accessed by the machinery necessary to convert genes to their gene products (for example again the proglucagon gene producing GLP-1, the hormone that decreases food intake).

The study raises questions about the moral and ethical obligations of parents who make dietary choices for their children. According to Dr. Reimer, "Our best advice continues to be that mothers follow the Canadian National Guidelines for the Childbearing Years. "

From the standpoint of the researchers doing the work, there is no thought to laying blame on mothers for the rising obesity epidemic - but those who debate ethical issues in medicine will be forced to deal with questions of whether or not a parent will one day be held legally responsible for a future illness of its offspring if that parent ignored advice based on established links between diet/lifestyle and epigenetics" (the way genes express themselves).

Dr. Reimer also explains there are "many similarities between the rat models we use and humans in
terms of how obesity and diabetes develop."

Research that targets the developmental origins of health and disease may provide us with better insights into the increasing rates of obesity, cancer, and other global health issues that currently defy solution. The current research emphasizes the lifetime health impact of early childhood diets.

Early childhood diet may influence future health