You are what your grandmother ate: Intergenerational impacts of prenatal nourishment

Public Release: 7-Aug-2017


New research in The FASEB Journal suggests that parents’ own nutritional experiences in utero have an impact on how their children grow

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

A study published online in The FASEB Journal shows that parents’ own prenatal environment has a detectable impact on their children’s weight. Mothers who were malnourished in the womb tend to produce smaller babies, while a father’s malnourishment in utero results in his offspring being smaller by the time they are 2 years old. The findings come from an experiment of nature in rural Gambia that ruled out confounding socioeconomic factors that could influence babies’ growth across generations.

“Nutritional interventions such as dietary supplementation programs in poor populations are frequently undermined by an apparent absence of immediate impact,” said Andrew M. Prentice, Ph.D., , professor within the MRC Unit The Gambia and MRC International Nutrition Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London. “This study shows that it may take several generations to eliminate growth failure and stunting because of these intergenerational influences.”

Researchers exploited an experiment of nature in rural Gambia, where a single annual rainy season creates a harvest and a hungry season. Mothers for whom the latter part of pregnancy is in the hungry season tend to have smaller babies. The knowledge that mothers and fathers born in the hungry season were nutritionally stressed in utero allowed researchers to study how parents’ own fetal nutrition affects the growth of their offspring. With a Gambian cohort of infants born between 1972 and 2011, the team used 31 multiple regression to test whether parental season of birth predicted offspring birth weight, length, and/or height by the time they were 2 years old.

“Here we have an unfortunate climatological situation being productively mined for hopeful future intervention” said Thoru Pederson, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.



Submit to The FASEB Journal by visiting, and receive monthly highlights by signing up at The FASEB Journal is published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). It is the world’s most cited biology journal according to the Institute for Scientific Information and has been recognized by the Special Libraries Association as one of the top 100 most influential biomedical journals of the past century.

FASEB is composed of 31 societies with more than 125,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. Our mission is to advance health and welfare by promoting progress and education in biological and biomedical sciences through service to our member societies and collaborative advocacy.

Details: Kamilla G. Eriksen, Elizabeth J. Radford, Matt J. Silver, Anthony J. C. Fulford, Rita Wegmüller, and Andrew M. Prentice. Influence of intergenerational in utero parental energy and nutrient restriction on offspring growth in rural Gambia.

Categories: . Epigenetic effect

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