Monday, December 2, 2013

Nutrition and food preference in utero

The impact of food before birth:

Some people think we’re shaped primarily by genes. Others believe that the environment we grow up in is most important. But now evidence is mounting that a third factor is also critical: our uterine environment before we’re even born. Researchers are finding indications that obesity, diabetes and mental illness among adults are all related in part to what happened in the womb decades earlier. What our mothers ate while pregnant and what they were eating while breastfeeding can have great significance on both our weight and health and also on our food preferences as we mature and grow to adulthood.

Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research organization in Philadelphia, have found that babies born to mothers who eat a diverse and varied diet while pregnant and breast-feeding are more open to a wide range of flavors.

“Infants exposed to a variety of flavors in infancy are more willing to accept a variety of flavors, including flavors that are associated with various vegetables and so forth and that might lead to a more healthy eating style later on.” There is another reason these exposures have a lifelong impact, the researchers conclude: “This early exposure leads to an imprinting-like phenomenon such that those flavors are not only preferred but they take on an emotional attachment.”

Functional foods, or foods that allegedly deliver nutritional benefit beyond what is available in natural foods, are a food industry creation to convince consumers that their products are superior to, or can replace, natural, whole foods. Globally, infant formula is the fastest growing functional food; the market is on track to grow by nearly $5 billion in 2013 alone.



But formula is only part of the problem since breast-fed babies of mothers eating too many refined and processed foods are also at risk. Claims by the food industry that personal responsibility, exercising more, and eating less are the solutions to obesity and diet-related disease are turned on their head with these studies. If babies are developing food preferences in utero and before 2 or 3 years of age through no fault of their own, how can we then blame them when they become obese children and adults?

If we hope to reverse the tide on obesity and diet-related disease in America, regulating processed food products and infant formula, and creating clear warning labels to deter parents from feeding their children potentially harmful foods may be our best shot. It is yet another way to give our children a better chance at a healthy adulthood.

To learn more, go to Changing eating preferences before birth and Importance of Fetal Period as a stage of development  or contact Susan Motika.

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