Developmental Origins of Obesity: Programmed Adipogenesis
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The metabolic syndrome epidemic, including a marked increase in the prevalence of obesity and gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) among pregnant women, represents a significant public health problem. There is increasing recognition that the risk of adult obesity is clearly influenced by prenatal and infant environmental exposures, particularly nutrition. This tenet is the fundamental basis of developmental programming. Low birth weight, together with infant catch-up growth, is associated with a significant risk of adult obesity. Exposure to maternal obesity, with or without GDM, or having a high birth weight also represents an increased risk for childhood and adult obesity. Animal models have replicated human epidemiologic findings and elucidated potential programming mechanisms that include altered organ development, cellular signaling responses, and epigenetic modifications. Prenatal care has made great strides in optimizing maternal, fetal, and neonatal health, and now has the opportunity to begin interventions which prevent or reduce childhood/adult obesity. Guidelines that integrate optimal pregnancy nutrition and weight gain, management of GDM, and newborn feeding strategies with long-term consequences on adult obesity, remain to be elucidated.