Adolescent Food Insecurity in Female Rodents and Susceptibility to Diet-induced Obesity

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Food insecurity is defined as having limited or uncertain access to nutritious foods, and adolescent food insecurity is associated with obesity and disordered eating behaviors in humans. We developed a rodent model of adolescent food insecurity to determine whether adolescent food insecurity per se promotes increased susceptibility to diet-induced obesity and altered eating behaviors during adulthood. Female juvenile Wistar rats were singly housed and assigned to three experimental diets: food-secure with standard chow (CHOW), food-secure with a high-fat/sugar Western diet (WD), and food-insecure with WD (WD-FI). Food-secure rats (CHOW and WD) received meals at fixed feeding times (9:00, 13:00, and 16:00). WD-FI rats received meals at unpredictable intervals of the above-mentioned feeding times but had isocaloric amounts of food to WD. We investigated the impact of adolescent food insecurity on motivation for sucrose (Progressive Ratio), approach-avoidance behavior for palatable high-fat food (Approach-Avoidance task), and susceptibility to weight gain and hyperphagia when given an obesogenic choice diet. Secondary outcomes were the effects of food insecurity during development on anxiety-like behaviors (Open Field and Elevated Plus Maze) and learning and memory function (Novel Location Recognition task). Rodents with adolescent food insecurity showed a greater trend of weight gain and significantly increased fat mass and liver fat accumulation on an obesogenic diet in adulthood, despite no increases in motivation for sucrose or high-fat food. These data suggest that adolescent unpredictable food access increases susceptibility to diet-induced fat gain without impacting food motivation or food intake in female rodents. These findings are among a small group of recent studies modeling food insecurity in rodents and suggest that adolescent food insecurity in females may have long-term implications for metabolic physiology later in life.


Physiology & Behavior