The phrase 'a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips' is already a rather onerous reminder to eat a healthy diet. But imagine how you might feel if the consequence lasted for several lifetimes instead?
As bizarre as that may sound, evidence suggests that our diet and lifestyle can affect the health of our
children. It could even affect our children’s children. What that also means, of course, is that the way our
ancestors lived could well be having an impact on us.
What is epigenetics?
Increasingly, scientists are understanding how our environment can affect our genes. It’s a field called
epigenetics which literally means 'on top of genetics'. It looks at the information layered on top of the
sequence of letters that makes up our DNA.
Imagine our DNA sequence as an instruction manual on how to make
our body. Epigenetics is like a highlighter used to mark the most important bits of the manual as well as the
bits it's OK to ignore.
Epigenetics is also often described as the process by which certain genes in our DNA become switched on or off by something we experience.
So, the discovery that what we eat and the way we live our life has an impact on our epigenetics, and therefore
our genes, means it can also affect the genes of our descendants as our DNA
is passed on.
Healthy eating and lifestyle is important enough when it’s just ourselves we have to think about. If it's the
future of humanity… well, that's a bit more daunting. That's why research into this area is so important. The
more we can understand about how lifestyle affects our genes, the more we will be able to understand what to do
more of and what to do less off.
The EpiGen Consortium is one of the largest epigenetic research projects in the world. It is a public-private
partnership of researchers based in the UK, New Zealand and Singapore.
To be involved in such cutting-edge research in such a vital and exciting field will enable us to create
products that have a proven, positive impact on the health of mothers and their children
Stefan Catsicas, Nestlé’s Chief Technology Officer
Nestlé began working with EpiGen in 2011 and has recently committed CHF 22
million to a six-year research partnership. The kind of work EpiGen is doing helps us understand how much
nutrition affects genetics. Researchers are looking at how the diet and lifestyles of pregnant women affect
their baby's genes. Even slight epigenetic changes can impact the future healthy growth and development of their
"To be involved in such cutting-edge research in such a vital and exciting field will enable us to create
products that have a proven, positive impact on the health of mothers and their children," says Stefan
Catsicas, Nestlé’s Chief Technology Officer.
The research aims to improve nutrition and reduce pregnancy-related problems such as gestational diabetes. The
condition affects the growth and development of children as well as the mother's future health.
The research aims to improve nutrition and reduce pregnancy-related problems
Since 2006, EpiGen has made significant discoveries in the areas of maternal and young child nutrition.
shown that a low-carbohydrate diet during pregnancy relates to chemical changes in parts of the baby's
DNA. These changes can indicate a greater risk for these young
children to become overweight or obese during childhood.
This both underlines the importance of good nutrition and highlights the long-term risks if it is not
This is a scientific field in its relative infancy. But already it has increased our knowledge of how the human
body adapts and reacts to its environment. And it is certain to further inform the way we look after our own
health, the health of our children and maybe even our children's children.