This review article explores the evidence that inappropriate levels of certain nutrients before or just after birth can predispose some individuals to obesity and examines how this could be applied to a clinical setting.

The brain regulates appetite and food preferences and is highly sensitive to its nutritional environment in early life.

Newborn rats whose mothers were fed a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet during pregnancy and lactation were more likely to choose high-fat food after weaning. These food preferences may be set during lactation. Tests on another group of rats revealed that newborns exposed to junk food such as doughnuts and crisps in the womb and during lactation were more likely to want that type of food. Newborns whose mothers switched from a junk-food to a healthier diet during lactation did not have this preference.

The authors suggest that hormones such as leptin — long thought to be a crucial factor in appetite regulation — are key in regulating the development of appetite in later life.