Weight across generations

How can weight be influenced in the womb?

What effect does a mother’s weight have on her children’s weight? Parents may pass their eating habits on to their children and certain gene variants that are inherited contribute to obesity risk.

However, our growing understanding of epigenetics suggests there are things that we do or that happen to us during our lifetimes that could further influence the genetic profile of our children. While genetics looks at changes to the sequence of DNA, epigenetics is the study of how regions of DNA are chemically modified to affect the expression of different genes – the degree to which they’re active.

Obese mothers, for example, may be more likely to have obese children, partly due to non-genetic maternal factors, such as diet, that affect the expression of genes in developing fetuses.

This idea is supported by studies showing that rats born to overweight mothers gain more weight when they are given access to unlimited high-fat foods than rats born to lean mothers. Studies of large groups of pregnant mothers and their children are underway to look into the effects of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors and how they interact.

Lead image:

Jason Snyder/Flickr CC BY


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About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Fat’ in December 2015.

Genetics and genomics, Health, infection and disease
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development