Underweight Babies Prone to Obesity

by Mark Benson on May 7, 2012

Underweight babies to Obese Adults

It defies conventional wisdom how a baby born that is born underweight grows up to become an obese individual. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that children often overcompensate during their youthful days and thus allowed to gain weight they eventually do not shed.

Now scientists have found why this phenomenon occurs. In animal studies models done at the University of California in Los Angeles has observed that low birth weight babies whose growth was restricted in the womb have higher levels of neuropeptides in the hypothalamus of the brain. The hypothalamus is the central control system for appetite in the body, resulting in a greater tendency to consume more calories for these children.

According to Dr. Sherin Devaskar, the lead author of the study, “Other studies have shown that neuronal processes that signal the brain to eat were wired differently in the hypothalamus if a hormonal gene, such as leptin, was missing. What we found is that appetite producing genes in the hypothalamus are completely programmed toward eating more to make up for the relative decrease in nutrition while in the womb. So the natural tendency for a child born with low birth weight is to eat more and to try to catch up in growth. But if this is not curbed, it can result in childhood obesity.”

The team is lead by Dr. Sherin Devaskar who is currently the Professor of Pediatrics and Executive Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. Their findings would appear in the June issue of the Journal of Neuroscience Research but is currently available online.

The study utilized rodent models that mimicked small human embryo development. When they reduced the rodent mother’s caloric intake, this lead to small, low birth weight and growth restricted babies. These babies were examined at an early age to determine how much milk being consumed and monitor their energy expenditure. Furthermore, the researchers reviewed the effect of being growth restricted in the womb had on the amount of hypothalamic neuropeptides that control the appetite when weaning the babies.

The study researchers found that those neuropeptides that increase appetite with decreased energy expenditure were increased in the hypothalamus while the neuropeptides that reduced the appetite and increased energy expenditure was decreased. This resulted in disruption of the homeostatic balance in the appetite controlling neuropeptides resulting in the hypothalamus consuming as many calories available without any sense of satisfaction.

This study further expanded on previous research published by the same team in the journal Diabetes where they concluded that small babies placed on a diet of moderate calorie regulation during infancy definitely lowers the propensity to become obese in the future decreases. Since this was an earlier study to the current one, the advice to seek pediatric assistance when mothers with low birth weight babies restrict their children’s nutritional needs.

The latest findings also indicate that nearly ten percent of babies in the United States are born “small”, which is defined as having less than the tenth percentile by weight for a specific gestation period. Causes for this condition includes mother’s malnutrition, reduction of blood placenta, smoking or use of alcohol or drugs at any time during the pregnancy. Growth restriction before birth can result in genetic changes in organs such as the pancreas, liver and the muscle tissues of the body.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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