Junk Food Addiction May Start in the Womb

By Chrisanne Grise 03/04/13

Prenatal exposure to sugar and fat makes kids more prone to food addiction, research shows.

A recipe for unhealthy eating later on
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It's not only opiate dependence that can be passed on to an unborn child during pregnancy: A new study finds exposure to junk food in the womb may boost children's likelihood of becoming food addicts. The research, published in The FASEB Journal, suggests that pregnant women's consumption of high amounts of unhealthy food may impact the development of a child’s opioid signaling pathway in the brain, causing the baby to be less sensitive to opioids (which are released when eating fatty and sugary foods). These children may be born with a higher tolerance to junk food, and will need to eat more of it to get a “feel good” response. “Junk food engages the same body chemistry as opium, morphine or heroin,” says Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. “Sad to say, junk food during pregnancy turns the kids into junk-food junkies.” These findings highlight the impact of a mother's prenatal behaviors on her unborn child, particularly as the number of babies opiate withdrawal symptoms increases. “The results of this research will ultimately allow us to better inform pregnant women about the lasting effect their diet has on the development of their child’s lifelong good preferences and risk of metabolic disease,” says Dr. Beverly Muhlhausler of the University of Adelaide. “Hopefully, this will encourage mothers to make healthier diet choices which will lead to healthier children.”

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.