The incidence of obesity and overweight has reached epidemic proportions in the developed world as well as in those countries transitioning to first world economies, and this represents a major global health problem. Concern is rising over the rapid increases in childhood obesity and metabolic disease that will translate into later adult obesity. Although an obesogenic nutritional environment and increasingly sedentary lifestyle contribute to our risk of developing obesity, a growing body of evidence links early life nutritional adversity to the development of long-term metabolic disorders. In particular, the increasing prevalence of maternal obesity and excess maternal weight gain has been associated with a heightened risk of obesity development in offspring in addition to an increased risk of pregnancy-related complications. The mechanisms that link maternal obesity to obesity in offspring and the level of gene-environment interactions are not well understood, but the early life environment may represent a critical window for which intervention strategies could be developed to curb the current obesity epidemic. This paper will discuss the various animal models of maternal overnutrition and their importance in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying altered obesity risk in offspring.
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