British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

Prenatal exposure to a maternal low-protein diet programmes a preference for high-fat foods in the young adult rat

Leanne Bellingera1, Christina Lilleya1 and Simon C. Langley-Evansa1 c1

a1 Centre for Reproduction and Early Life, School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington, Loughborough LE12 5RD, UK


Nutrient restriction in pregnancy has been shown to programme adult obesity. Modulation of feeding behaviour may provide a mechanism through which obesity may be programmed. Pregnant Wistar rats were fed either a control diet or a low-protein (LP) diet throughout gestation. Their offspring were allocated to a self-selected-diet protocol to assess appetite and food preferences at 12 and at 30 weeks of age. Self-selection of high-fat, high-protein or high-carbohydrate foods by 12-week-old rats indicated that the prenatal environment influenced feeding behaviour. Both male and female offspring of LP-fed mothers consumed significantly more of the high-fat (P>0·001) and significantly less (P>0·02) of the high-carbohydrate food than the control animals. Female, but not male, offspring of LP-fed rats failed to adjust food intake to maintain a constant energy intake and had higher fat (P>0·005) and energy intakes (P>0·05) than control female rats. At 30 weeks of age there were no differences in the pattern of food selection between the two groups of animals. Male offspring of LP-fed rats had significantly more gonadal fat than control animals (P>0·05), but analysis of total body fat content indicated that there was no significant difference in overall adiposity. The present study suggests that in young adults at least, early life exposure to undernutrition determines a preference for fatty foods. Maternal nutrition may thus promote changes in systems that are involved in control of appetite or the perception of palatability.

(Received January 19 2004)

(Revised May 14 2004)

(Accepted May 18 2004)


c1 *Corresponding author: fax +44 115 951 6122, Email