Perinatal exposure to high-fat diet programs energy balance, metabolism and behavior in adulthood

Elinor L. Sullivan, M. Susan Smith, Kevin L. Grove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Scopus citations


The perinatal environment plays an important role in programming many aspects of physiology and behavior including metabolism, body weight set point, energy balance regulation and predisposition to mental health-related disorders such as anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Maternal health and nutritional status heavily influence the early environment and have a long-term impact on critical central pathways, including the melanocortinergic, serotonergic system and dopaminergic systems. Evidence from a variety of animal models including rodents and nonhuman primates indicates that exposure to maternal high-fat diet (HFD) consumption programs offspring for increased risk of adult obesity. Hyperphagia and increased preference for fatty and sugary foods are implicated as mechanisms for the increased obesity risk. The effects of maternal HFD consumption on energy expenditure are unclear, and future studies need to address the impact of perinatal HFD exposure on this important component of energy balance regulation. Recent evidence from animal models also indicates that maternal HFD consumption increases the risk of offspring developing mental health-related disorders such as anxiety. Potential mechanisms for perinatal HFD programming of neural pathways include circulating factors, such as hormones (leptin, insulin), nutrients (fatty acids, triglycerides and glucose) and inflammatory cytokines. As maternal HFD consumption and obesity are common and rapidly increasing, we speculate that future generations will be at increased risk for both metabolic and mental health disorders. Thus, it is critical that future studies identify therapeutic strategies that are effective at preventing maternal HFD-induced malprogramming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • Anxiety
  • Energy balance
  • Energy expenditure
  • Inflammation
  • Maternal high-fat diet
  • Metabolic imprinting
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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