A new animal study suggests that children of obese mothers could reduce their risk of developing negative health effects linked to obesity by exercising during childhood. This is according to a study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.

Obesity during pregnancy can lead to many health problems for a mother, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and thrombosis. It also increases the risk of the child developing obesity-related conditions as an adult, such as heart disease or diabetes.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that excessive weight gain during pregnancy increases the risk of having overweight or obese children.

With these risks in mind, researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, led by Kellie L. K. Tamashiro, conducted a study on overweight rat mothers and their pups to determine the impact of exercise on the rats’ appetite, and whether it would have any effect on their health.

The investigators fed pregnant rats a high-fat diet throughout their pregnancy and while they were nursing their pups.

The rat pups were fed a healthy, standard low-fat diet. At 4 weeks of age – the equivalent to rodent early adolescence – some of the pups were able to use running wheels in their cages while the others were not. The running wheels were removed after 3 weeks.

At 14 weeks of age, the rat pups had their brains injected with leptin – an appetite-suppressing hormone.

Fat cells naturally secrete leptin, which helps many people maintain a healthy weight, the researchers explain. Although obese individuals have more leptin circulating in their bloodstream because they have more fat, the body appears to stop responding to the hormone.

But when it came to the study results, the researchers found that although the exercising rat pups weighed the same as the pups who did not exercise, they had fewer fat deposits and better brain responses to leptin weeks after exercise ceased.

“There was something about the exercise that improved their leptin sensitivity, even the equivalent in humans of years later,” says Tamashiro.

The researchers say that since many mammals – including rats and humans – have similar biology, their findings suggest that exercise during early childhood could reduce some of the health risks associated with children of obese parents.

Just 3 weeks of exercise early in life had a persistent effect on the satiety centers of the brains of these rat pups.

If we can find a way to take advantage of that phenomenon in humans that would be great, because preventing obesity is probably going to be much easier to do than reversing it.”

Tamashiro says that modern-day children do not have as many opportunities to carry out physical activity in school, and they are spending an increasing amount of time playing video games or engaging in other activities that require no exercise.

“Our research suggests that efforts to increase activity in kids could have positive long-term effects, regardless of whether they continue to exercise into adulthood,” she adds.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that current recommendations for children to exercise 1 hour are day are not enough.