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04.02.2009


Fat as a child? Maybe fat for the rest of your life…

Were you fat as a child? Were you fed on a diet of soft drinks, TV dinners and Mars bars? Then your metabolism was probably changed for life. Your body is far more sparing with the energy it gets from food than the body of a person who was thin as a child. Of course this comes in handy if there's a famine, but it's hardly comforting news if it's washboard abs that you’re after.

Study
Fat as a child? Maybe fat for the rest of your life…
Researchers at the University of Chicago write about metabolic changes in PLoS ONE, in an article on tests with C57BL/6 mice. These animals apparently get just as hooked on potato chips and chocolate as we do.

When the mice were still young, the researchers gave half of their test animals a two-week long diet consisting half of good-quality feed and half of peanut butter and Nestle candies - in butterscotch, milk chocolate and white chocolate flavours.

The animals were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. [Unlimited] The control group got mice feed and nothing else. [No sucrose] After a couple of weeks both groups reverted to normal feed diets. When the mice reached adulthood, the real experiment started. At that point, both groups were given a diet enriched with sugar and fatty junk food. That way the researchers could assess what the effect had been of fattening the animals in their youth.

Results
When the experiment started the mice in both groups weighed about the same. But subsequently the animals that had been fattened when young put on weight faster than the mice that had had a healthy childhood. The mice that continued on a normal diet did not put on weight.


Fat as a child? Maybe fat for the rest of your life…


Nevertheless, the animals in both groups ate the same amount of food. The broken lines represent the mice that were given a fat and sugar-rich diet for a few weeks in adulthood. The unbroken lines represent the mice that remained on a standard mouse diet. The junk food diet tempted the mice to eat more. And it made no difference whether the mice had had a junk food diet when young or not.


Fat as a child? Maybe fat for the rest of your life…


The mice had a treadmill in their cage as a sort of fitness machine. The researchers recorded the amount of time the mice used the treadmill, and observed that the mice that had had junk food when young were not less active. So that wasn't an explanation either.


Fat as a child? Maybe fat for the rest of your life…


When the researchers started making calculations, they discovered that even the short exposure at a young age to junk food had been enough to make the mice's bodies become more efficient when it came to getting energy from their food. And the effect was pretty strong.


Fat as a child? Maybe fat for the rest of your life…


Conclusion
Ok, ok. C57BL/6 mice aren't humans. But if this effect is also found in humans – and why would our metabolism be so different from that of mice? – then it's likely to have political and economic consequences. It certainly throws a different light on the discussion about the role of food manufacturers whose advertising teaches children bad habits.

Sources:
PLoS ONE. 2008 Sep 17;3(9):e3221.

More:
Junk food ruins your liver unnoticed 03.10.2008