The importance of a high fat intake in the increasing prevalence of childhood and adult obesity remains controversial. Moreover, qualitative changes (i.e. the fatty acid composition of fats) have been largely disregarded.

Herein is reviewed the role of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) of the n-6 series in promoting adipogenesis in vitro and favoring adipose tissue development in rodents during the gestation/suckling period. Epidemiological data from infant studies as well as the assessment of the fatty acid composition of mature breast milk and infant formulas over the last decades in the Western industrialized world are revisited and appear consistent with animal data.

Changes over decades in the intake of n-6 and n-3 PUFAs, with a striking increase in the linoleic acid/alpha-linolenic ratio, are observed.

In adults, using a consumption model based upon production data, similar changes in the PUFA content of ingested lipids have been found for France, and are associated with an increase of fat consumption over the last 40 years. These profound quantitative and qualitative alterations can be traced in the food chain and shown to be due to changes in human dietary habits as well as in the feeding pattern of breeding stock.

If prevention of obesity is a key issue for future generations, agricultural and food industry policies should be thoroughly reevaluated.