Obesity and poor nutrition during pregnancy may decrease the fertility of future offspring, according to a new study.

To understand how maternal obesity and poor nutrition during pregnancy influences offspring fertility, researchers from the University of Cambridge looked at the egg reserves of female mice born from mothers placed on different diets.

"Infertility can have devastating impacts on individuals and families, and our study will help to better identify women who are at risk of experiencing problems with their fertility," said Catherine Aiken of the University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories and MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit at the Institute of Metabolic Science, who co-authored the study. "We hope to be able to devise ways to maintain future fertility for children who faced a very difficult nutritional environment in the womb."

For the study, researchers placed pregnancy mice in either a high-fat and high-sugar diet or a normal healthy diet. After birth, female offspring were weaned onto the same diet as their mothers.

After examining the egg reserves, researchers found that female offspring of mice placed on a high-fat and high-sugar diet had significantly less egg reserves than offspring of mice placed on a normal healthy diet. The research team noted that the findings held true no matter what diet of the offspring.

"There was no effect of postweaning diet on any measured ovarian parameters. Maternal diet thus plays a central role in determining follicular reserve in adult female offspring. Our observations suggest that lipid peroxidation and mitochondrial biogenesis are the key intracellular pathways involved in programming of ovarian reserve," the team wrote.

Upon further examination, the researchers found that the changes that disrupted the normal protection against damaging free radicals in the ovaries were the result of damaging free radicals.

"It has of course long been known that the intrauterine environment is critical and also that maternal nutritional deprivation in particular can have very adverse effects on the offspring (as was so manifest in Holland in 1944-45 when the Nazi's cut off food supplies)," said Thoru Pederson, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.

"However, this study shows that caloric excess also has adverse consequences and that to the extent the effect is reduced ovulation, it constitutes a transgenerational defect that would be evolutionarily severe. Although rodent models can be different, it seems likely these finding would translate to the human and indeed such studies seeking this correlation would be highly warranted," Pederson added.

The findings were recently published in The FASEB Journal.