Food and Behaviour Research

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Chronic Consumption of a High-Fat Diet during Pregnancy Causes Perturbations in the Serotonergic System and Increased Anxiety-Like Behavior in Nonhuman Primate Offspring.

Sullivan EL, Grayson B, Takahashi D, Robertson N, Maier A, Bethea CL, Smith MS, Coleman K, Grove KL. (2010) J Neurosci.  30(10) 3826-30. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here


Childhood obesity is associated with increased risk of behavioral/psychological disorders including depression, anxiety, poor learning, and attention deficit disorder. As the majority of women of child-bearing age are overweight or obese and consume a diet high in dietary fat, it is critical to examine the consequences of maternal overnutrition on the development of brain circuitry that regulates offspring behavior.

Using a nonhuman primate model of diet-induced obesity, we found that maternal high-fat diet (HFD) consumption caused perturbations in the central serotonergic system of fetal offspring. In addition, female infants from HFD-fed mothers exhibited increased anxiety in response to threatening novel objects.

These findings have important clinical implications as they demonstrate that exposure to maternal HFD consumption during gestation, independent of obesity, increases the risk of developing behavioral disorders such as anxiety.


In this animal study, a high fat diet during pregnancy led to changes in serotonin metabolism in the offspring, and (in the case of females) increased anxiety.  

Here, these adverse effects were independent of obesity - although other recent animal studies have shown that maternal obesity induced by a high-fat diet can cause behavioural problems in offspring, and that these effects are permanent.

These findings may help to explain findings from human studies that maternal obesity before and during pregnancy is associated with increased risks for ADHD and related behavioural, emotional and cognitive problems in the resulting children. See:

And for further information on this topic please see: