- Study found they are three times more likely to develop autism by age 6
- Children of obese mothers are over four times more likely to develop ADHD
- Study did not establish mechanism for link, but one theory says maternal obesity causes inflammation, which could affect foetus’ development
Children of obese mothers have a higher risk of developing autism and ADHD, according to new research. Babies born to severely obese mothers are three times as likely to develop autism spectrum disorder and more than four times as likely to develop ADHD by age six, a study found.
Researchers did not analyse the mechanism behind the link, but said one theory is that being obese during pregnancy leads to increased inflammation, which might affect a foetus’ brain development. The US team analysed data on 1,311 pairs of mothers and children collected between 2005 and 2012.
This included the mothers’ Body Mass Index (BMI) before pregnancy and their reports of the children’s psychosocial difficulties at age six. They also looked at the children’s diagnoses of developmental problems and whether they received special needs services.
Researchers found children mother who had a BMI of greater than 35 – which meant they are classified as ‘severely obese’ – were twice as likely to have emotional symptoms, problems with peers and total psychosocial difficulties. This was compared to children of mothers who had a healthy BMI – of between 18.5 and 25.
They were also three times as likely to have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and more than four times as likely to have ADHD. The team had already found evidence of this link in two previous studies, but wanted to see if the link was the same using a variety of different measures.
In order to do this, they accounted for pregnancy weight gain, gestational diabetes, how long they were breastfed, postnatal depression and infant birth weight, none of which explained the apparent link. The study’s lead author, Heejoo Jo, of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Reuters Health: ‘We already do know that obesity is related to health problems during pregnancy and throughout the lifetime.
‘I think this adds to that by suggesting that not only does severe obesity affect a woman’s health but the health of her future children.’
This study could not analyse the mechanism linking severe obesity and later risk for developmental problems, she added. She continued: ‘One theory that we could not look at and needs further research was some small studies have linked maternal obesity to increased inflammation, which might affect foetal brain development.’
Women should receive comprehensive care and discuss all health and medical issues with their doctors before becoming pregnant, and that includes weight status, she added. It is recommended that all children should be screened for developmental delays or disability at 9, 18, 24 and 30 months old.
Women who were severely obese before pregnancy should be especially committed to getting those screens done, Ms Jo said. ‘And if they have any concerns, bring the child in immediately,’ she added. The research was reported in the journal Pediatrics.
Published: 29 April 2015 By Madlen Davies
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