Healthcare research: Study increases understanding of birth weight and obesity

22nd June 2011

Scientists investigating the link between low birth weights and obesity later in life have shown that altering hormones in the brain can change cellular development and regulate appetite.

Research conducted in Los Angeles using foetal neural stem cells from online models found that altering insulin and leptin in utero may have a significant effect on the offspring's brain development.

Insulin and leptin are both important in regulating energy balance, with the former giving a quick boost upon eating and the latter regulating long-term energy balance, so could have vast influence on obesity, researchers said.

Mina Desai, author of the study, said: "Our cellular make up is akin to the foundation for a house. If the foundation isn't constructed properly, you can try and fix it and you will still have a problem. The same is true for people with fewer cells to regulate appetite and maintain stable and proper function of the brain."

She pointed out the previous studies had shown that infants who have a low birth weight experience a catch-up period later on, which is associated with obesity and related conditions.

Two-thirds of men and half of all women in the UK are classed as obese, according to the World Health Organisation guidelines, which state anyone with a BMI over 30.

Posted by Edward Bartel

1. Desai, Nina. "Fetal Hypothalamic Neuroprogenitor Cell Culture: Preferential Differentiation Paths Induced by Leptin and Insulin." Endocrinology. June 2011.

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