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Daily Mail publishes good article, well camouflaged by title.

The Daily Mail Online recently posted an informative article on Epigenetics, Is Audrey Hepburn the key to stopping the obesity epidemic?, by John Naish. Yes, the title makes it sound like the article is about how thin celebrities and role models will surely inspire everyone to get thin! Fortunately, that's not what it's about at all.

Audrey Hepburn experienced the Hunger Winter as a teenager during WWII.

Hepburn’s slight figure — her waist was only 20in — came not from any celeb-style fad diet. It was a legacy of the jaundice, anaemia, respiratory problems and chronic blood disorders she contracted in those desperate days. After a lifetime of quietly suffering frail health, she died in 1993, two months after undergoing an operation for colon cancer. She said of her privations: ‘After living for years under the Germans, you swore you would never complain about anything again.’

Now Dr Carey, a British biology expert and former senior lecturer at Imperial College, London, has written a book in which she suggests Hepburn’s poor health was the result of genetic changes caused by her terrible childhood diet. Such changes are being revealed by the new science of epigenetics.

We are beginning to understand how we are not simply born with genes that are pre-set for life.

The Hunger Winter left adults who survived it with chronic ill health and people who were fetuses at the time with a tendency to store fat and a high risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The most worrying finding is that parents’ poor nutrition can seriously affect the health of their unborn children. This is particularly true of mothers who are malnourished in the first three months of pregnancy. While the hunger winter survivors’ babies tended to be born at a normal size, they often inherited a lifetime problem: their obesity rates are much higher than normal.

Some theories suggest that when a baby suffers malnutrition in the womb, a survival mechanism kicks in that pre-sets its metabolism in preparation for being born into a world of famine and starvation...

Some of these effects even seem to be present in the children of this group — the grandchildren of the original hunger winter survivors. Not only were the children’s genes changed epigenetically, but those harmful changes have been passed on through two generations.

Dr. Carey's book: The Epigenetics Revolution, subtitled "How modern biology is rewriting our understanding of genetics, disease and inheritance." isn't focused on the genetics of obesity, and there's a more conventional review of it here, in the Guardian.

However, Mr. Naish comments intelligently on the material that concerns body size, restates some things that have been kicking around the fatosphere for a while, and offers some insight on the mutability of our genetic inheritance.

In light of this, I'm amazed that fat women are still being advised to avoid weight gain during pregnancy, when attempting to do so could effectively expose their fetuses to famine conditions. Why are medical recommendations based on an assumption that well nourished fetuses, babies and children become fat, while the opposite appears to be the case?

Southwest Airlines: at it again | Obesity not responsible for kidney stones in children

Keechypeachy September 1st, 2011 | Link | We fatties will all have to

We fatties will all have to go ask our mums whether they dieted when they were carrying us. Would be an interesting study Smiling

You can also have genes for auto-immune condiitons, pyroluria, things like that, turned on by abuse or some other stress in childhood.

richie79's picture
richie79
September 1st, 2011 | Link | it's probably now too late,

It's probably now too late, given the time elapsed, but it would certainly have been interesting to follow up survivors of the Nazi death camps / Japanese POW camps with a view to identifying whether or not they tended to be heavier than peers who hadn't been subjected to prolonged starvation conditions. The line 'there were no fatties in Auschwitz' comes up time and again in discussion threads as an argument for the 'calories in / calories out' approach, and every time it does I point out that not only did many of those survivors probably go in with fat reserves that allowed them to outlive their thinner fellow prisoners (after all, that's probably why we evolved the ability to store fat, as a means of resilience against famine) but likely also ended up on the large side once they again had access to a steady food supply as a result of damage to their metabolisms or triggering of the 'thrifty' gene.

The current advice seems to be that whilst outright dieting during pregnancy isn't recommended, neither is 'excessive' gain, or for that matter becoming pregnant in the first place if you're 'obese', i.e. only those at their 'correct' weight should attempt to conceive. Of course there's another group of people for which this research has implications - the rapidly growing number of women who become pregnant following WLS (indeed, my wife falls into this category). WLS creates biologically enforced, life-long malnutrition which when coupled with all the usual joys of pregnancy (morning sickness, nausea, weird food cravings etc) must surely have implications for the developing foetus. It would be the cruellest of ironies if the result of undergoing surgery intended to make oneself more socially acceptable, sorry 'healthy' were to compound the underlying genetic element of the mother's size and further expose the child to all the hate and prejudice that now accompanies being fat in this country.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

moxie3's picture
moxie3
September 2nd, 2011 | Link | I don't know what the

I don't know what the percentage of women who have PCOS and WLS to combat it is but from what I've seen once the women with PCOS have had the surgery and drop the weight they are able to get pregnant. Of course there are big differences in nutrition when it comes to having lap band surgery or RNY et al and pregnancy.

TigerHawk310 September 1st, 2011 | Link | It would be an intesting

It would be an intesting question to see whether this is a selected trait or a causation effect. In other words, whether:

1. Starvation causes mothers and children without a thrifty gene to die or miscarry, resulting in the surviving children being fatter when food becomes abundant, or
2. Starvation causes hormonal changes that permanently affect the child's metabolism.

Of course, neither is the result the "all you need is diet and exercise " crowd wants to see...

Viola's picture
Viola
September 1st, 2011 | Link | An article about the effect

An article about the effect of in utero experiences appeared in a Newsweek almost 12 years ago, in an article called Shaped by Life in the Womb, and it referenced the Dutch Famine Birth Cohort study. One of the ideas presented in that article was that the "thrift gene" is turned on in utero by a lack of calories in the first trimester. I think one of the things they found that is babies whose mothers suffered malnutrition in the first 3 months were more likely to be obese later in life and have cardiovascular problems than babies whose mothers starve in the last trimester. So good nutrition in the first trimester seemed to be key.

I also heard some little news blurb around the same time (almost 13 years ago now), that babies under a certain birthweight--6 lbs, I believe, were more likely to have narrow carotid arteries later in life, and more problems because of it.

I have always been curious about how mothers with hyperemesis gravidarum fare. I've known some women who claim to be too sick to eat much of anything, and often end up with home IV care to combat dehydration. I asked a mother who had that about the birthweight of her children, but her babies ended up being a fairly good size. Of course, I wonder what happens if you starve yourself during the first trimester, but then make up for it later on, and how that would differ by being starved due to external forces.

I have talked to my mother about her pregnancies, and at the time she was pregnant, doctors were advising no more than a 20 lb weight gain, which she claimed she thought was ridiculous. At the same time, she did smoke, which helped to keep her weight down, and the fact that she only weighed 118 lbs for a large part of her adult life was very important to her, as I heard this little tidbit many times throughout my life. I also heard her hips were too narrow to birth naturally, although she had a natural birth against her wishes in Hawaii in 1955, but her 5th, 6th and 7th children ended up being born via c-section.

The Dutch Famine Study site lists the study as being from 2008, but also says it started 15 years ago, which might be why Newsweek did an article on it in 1999.

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