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The University of Southampton

Southampton research into obesity will feature on BBC Two’s Horizon

Published: 15 March 2012

Groundbreaking research, carried out at the University of Southampton, which discovered that a mother’s nutrition during pregnancy can strongly influence her child’s risk of obesity many years later, will be featured on BBC Two’s Horizon.

The documentary, entitled “The Truth about Fat” is due to be aired on Tuesday 20th March and will discuss ‘epigenetic change’, a process through which a mother’s diet can alter the function of her child’s DNA and can lead to her child tending to lay down more fat.

Keith Godfrey, Professor of Epidemiology and Human Development at the University of Southampton, who led the research, will feature in the programme. He says: “Susceptibility to obesity cannot simply be attributed to the combination of our genes and our lifestyle, but can be triggered by influences on a baby’s development in the womb, including what the mother ate. A mother’s nutrition while pregnant can cause important epigenetic changes that contribute to her offspring’s risk of obesity during childhood.”

During pregnancy, a mother’s diet can alter the function of her child’s DNA
‘Epigenetic change’

The research measured epigenetic changes in nearly 300 children at birth and showed that these strongly predicted the degree of obesity at six or nine years of age. What was surprising to the researchers was the size of the effect – children vary in how fat they are, but measurement of the epigenetic change at birth allowed the researchers to predict 25 per cent of this variation.

The epigenetic changes, which alter the function of our DNA without changing the actual DNA sequence inherited from the mother and father, can also influence how a person responds to lifestyle factors such as diet or exercise for many years to come.

Professor Godfrey adds: “We have never seen anything as strongly related to the child’s obesity before, in all the studies that we’ve performed over the last 25 years. The research provides compelling evidence that epigenetic changes at least in part explain the link between a poor start to life and later disease risk. This indicates that measures to prevent childhood obesity should be targeted on improving a mother’s nutrition and her baby’s development in the womb.”

Horizon will be aired at 9pm on Tuesday 20th March on BBC Two. For more information about the show visit

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