Field Notes

Maternal Diet Sets Up Junk-Food Addiction in Babies

Research from Australia’s University of Adelaide suggests that mothers who eat junk food while pregnant already have programmed their babies to be addicted to a high-fat, high-sugar diet by the time they’re weaned.

In laboratory studies, the researchers found that a junk-food diet during pregnancy and lactation desensitized the normal reward system fueled by these highly palatable foods.

Led by Bev Mühlhäusler, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the university’s FOODplus Research Centre, this is the first study to show the effects of maternal junk-food consumption at such an early stage in the offspring’s life. The study recently was published in The FASEB Journal.

Opioids are produced by the body as a reward response, including in response to fat and sugar. These opioids stimulate the production of the hormone dopamine, which produces a good feeling. “We found that the opioid-signaling pathway—the reward pathway—in these offspring was less sensitive than those whose mothers were eating a standard diet,” Mühlhäusler says.

This means children born to a mother who ate a diet dominated by junk food would need to eat more fat and sugar to get the same good feeling, increasing their preference for junk food. It also would encourage them to overeat.

“In the same way that someone addicted to opioid drugs has to consume more of the drug over time to achieve the same ‘high,’ continually producing excess opioids by eating too much junk food results in the need to consume more foods full of fat and sugar to get the same pleasurable sensation,” Mühlhäusler says.

“Mothers eating a lot of junk food while pregnant are setting up their children to be addicted,” she continues. “Although our research shows that many of the long-term health problems associated with maternal junk-food diets can be avoided if offspring carefully follow a healthful diet after weaning, they’re always going to have a predisposition for overconsumption of junk food and obesity. It’s going to make it much more difficult for them to maintain a healthfy body weight.”

Mühlhäusler says it’s important to try to understand the effects of the maternal diet at a very early stage in the offspring to see what systems could be targeted, if any, to reverse the problem.

However, initial findings from further work have suggested the alterations to the opioid receptors are permanent.

“The take-home message for women is that eating large amounts of junk food during pregnancy and while breast-feeding will have long-term consequences for their child’s preference for these foods, which will ultimately have negative effects on their health,” Mühlhäusler says.

— Source: University of Adelaide


Children With Milk Allergy May be ‘Allergic to School’

Many of today’s schoolteachers opt for dustless chalk to keep hands and classrooms clean. But according to a study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, this choice in chalk may cause allergy and asthma symptoms in students that have a milk allergy.

The milk protein casein often is used in low-powder chalk. When milk-allergic children inhale chalk particles containing casein, life-threatening asthma attacks and other respiratory issues can occur.

“Chalks that are labeled as being antidust or dustless still release small particles into the air,” says lead study author Carlos H. Larramendi, MD. “Our research has found when the particles are inhaled by children with milk allergy, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath can occur. Inhalation also can cause nasal congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose.”

“Chalk isn’t the only item in a school setting that can be troublesome to milk-allergic students,” says James Sublett, MD, chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Indoor Environment Committee. “Milk proteins also can be found in glue, paper, ink, and in other children’s lunches.”

Even in the wake of whiteboards, overhead projectors, and tablets, chalk is a classroom staple that likely won’t become extinct anytime soon. Parents with milk-allergic children should ask to have their child seated in the back of the classroom where they’re less likely to inhale chalk dust, Sublett advises.

“Teachers should be informed about foods and other triggers that might cause health problems for children,” Sublett says. “A plan for dealing with allergy and asthma emergencies also should be shared with teachers, coaches, and the school nurse. Children also should carry allergist prescribed epinephrine, inhalers, or other life-saving medications.”

— Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology