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What Mom Eats During Pregnancy Affects Lifetime Food Choice

Brussel sprouts and chocolate

Kimberly Trout, director of the Nurse Midwifery/Women's Health Nurse Practitioner program, says adult food preferences are directly related to what mothers eat while their babies are in the womb.

November 04, 2011 – Ever wonder why you love Brussels sprouts and your brother hates them? Georgetown’s Kimberly Trout says it may be because your mother ate the vegetable when she was pregnant with you but not while pregnant with your sibling.

Trout, director of the Nurse Midwifery/Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner program at the School of Nursing & Health Studies, believes this isn’t well known among the general population or among healthcare workers who take care of pregnant women.

She makes sure her students take this knowledge into consideration.

Reducing Risk

“Mothers need to know that what they eat during pregnancy can influence what their children will eat for the rest of their lives,” Trout says. “This represents a real opportunity for women to reduce risk of nutritional disorders in their family."

The Georgetown professor says Dr. Julie Mennella, who pioneered research on flavor learning, suggests that pregnant women eating a lot of fast food and sweets can be a contributing factor to their children developing obesity and diabetes.

Trout pulled together Mennella’s work and other scientific evidence into a review article published online Oct. 22 in the journal, Current Diabetes Report.

Flavor Learning

Trout believes that the emerging science of “flavor learning” has widespread public health implications for future control of obesity and diabetes.

“When I tell women this, they feel empowered because they want to do whatever they can to improve their baby’s health,” Trout explains.

Odor Response

She notes that a 2009 paper published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that taste acquisition and preference starts in utero.

The paper said researchers found that amniotic fluid can take on the odors and flavors of whatever the mother ingested. Fetuses begin swallowing about a teaspoon of amniotic fluid a day at about 10 weeks of gestation, and fetal taste buds are mature in utero by 13 to 15 weeks.

A fetus begins to respond to odors, which are an important component of flavor, at about 28 weeks, the paper explained.

“We know that about 90 percent of flavor is odor, and the link between odor and memory is well established,” Trout says.

Like Mother, like Son

Flavor learning is just the latest thread of research that links the fetal environment to development of adult diseases, Trout says.

“More and more, researchers are understanding that what happens in the uterus has a huge impact on the rest of a person’s life,” she notes.

Trout’s son likes fast food.

While working long hours as an intern, she says, “I often ate at the Taco Bell right next to the hospital – well before I knew anything about flavor learning.”

 

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