First Advisor

Diane Stadler

Date of Award

Spring 6-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Public Health Studies: Pre-clinical Health Science and University Honors


Health Studies




Mothers -- Nutrition, Diet, Maternal-fetal exchange, Anxiety disorders -- Animal models, Epigenetics, Anxiety in infants, Anxiety in children




Generalized anxiety has become more prevalent among children and adolescents in the United States which impacts their health and livelihood. Maternal nutrition during pregnancy is purported to play a role in cognitive development and mental health during childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood. The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease theory suggests maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy influences transgenerational susceptibility, onset, and severity of disease through epigenetic mechanisms that then impact the child’s overall health, including cognitive development and mental health later in life. A literature review of rodents and non-human primate studies was conducted to explore the association between fetal exposure to a maternal high-fat diet and the development and severity of anxiety among offspring. Perturbations in the serotonergic neurotransmitter system were observed among offspring exposed to a maternal high-fat diet that altered the expression of Tryptophan hydroxylase 2, serotonin transporter, and serotonin 1A receptor subtype. In contrast to offspring of mothers fed a standard chow diet, those born to a mother fed a high-fat diet experienced early activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, impaired negative feedback mechanisms, increased expression of glucocorticoid receptors in the limbic system, and dysregulation of pro- and anti-inflammatory gene expression. These studies suggest that fetal exposure to a maternal high-fat diet increases the risk for the development of generalized anxiety disorders among children and adolescents. To break this transgenerational cycle of cognitive impairment, public health policies and interventions must be implemented to enhance maternal dietary patterns and improve the health of future generations.


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