A study by researchers at the University of Wyoming indicates that obesity in female sheep can impact the health of the animals’ granddaughters and daughters. The study was published in the International Journal of Obesity on October 30.

The study has implications for predicting obesity, particularly abdominal fat, in humans.

Stephen Ford, the University of Wyoming’s Rochelle Endowed Chair in the Department of Animal Science and director of the Center for the Study of Fetal Programming, is lead writer of a paper, titled “Multi-Generational Impact of Maternal Over-nutrition/Obesity in the Sheep on the Neonatal Leptin Surge in Granddaughters.”

The International Journal of Obesity provides an international, multi-disciplinary forum for the study of obesity. The journal publishes basic, clinical and applied studies and also features a quarterly pediatric highlight.

The multigenerational effects of over-nutrition during pregnancy on body-fat levels, and blood glucose and insulin concentrations, have been studied in rodents, but it remains uncertain whether the same findings apply to large-animal species, including humans, that tend to bear a single fetus born after a greater degree of intra-uterine development.

Ford’s research makes those previously unknown factors more quantifiable.

“The most interesting thing is this is the first paper that looks at large mammals that gives attention in the phenotype or change in their propensity to get fat,” Ford says. “This has been shown in rodents."

Ford and colleagues compared 20 obese, over-nourished ewes with a control group of 20 ewes that were fed only to requirements. They examined how obesity and overfeeding affected the animals’ daughters and granddaughters. The authors found that birth weight did not vary significantly between granddaughters of the two treatment groups.

However, newborn lambs born to the daughters of over-nourished pregnant sheep had higher or obesity levels, and higher blood concentrations of glucose and insulin, compared to granddaughters of the control group.

Ford says that obesity affects the levels of leptin, a hormone involved in regulating appetite, for sheep born to obese mothers. As a result, the sheep is predisposed to having weight struggles because the mother was overweight during pregnancy.

Ford says his study of sheep could easily correlate to humans and their struggles with controlling weight.