A poor diet during pregnancy not only adversely affects the health of the mother, but also potentially causes problems for her children and grandchildren too, say scientists.

This "domino" effect was tested by scientists at the University of Cambridge using rats, who were fed a protein-deficient diet. The diet resulted in higher rates of type 2 diabetes in their offspring.

The scientists, whose findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, believe a poor diet compromises the long-term functioning of a gene called Hnf4a, thought to play a vital role in insulin production and the development of the pancreas.

This Hnf4a gene appeared to be "silenced" as the offspring rats aged, giving the scientists proof of the links between an unbalanced maternal diet and diabetes appearing in later life.

Dr Susan Ozanne, who lead the study, said: "Having a healthy well-balanced diet any time in your life is important for your health," she said, "but a healthy well-balanced diet during pregnancy is particularly important because of the impact on the baby long-term and potentially even on the grandchildren as well."

Posted by Penny Hosie on 8.3.11 Comment on this article by sending it to: penny.hosie@pavpub.com