Summary: Women who were obese prior to pregnancy were almost twice as likely to report their child had ADHD or other behavioral problems compared to women who were normal weight before pregnancy.
Maternal obesity may increase a child’s risk for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to an analysis by researchers from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), part of the National Institutes of Health. The researchers found that mothers–but not fathers–who were overweight or obese before pregnancy were more likely to report that their children had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or to have symptoms of hyperactivity, inattentiveness or impulsiveness at ages 7 to 8 years old. Their study appears in The Journal of Pediatrics.
The study team analyzed the NICHD Upstate KIDS Study, which recruited mothers of young infants and followed the children through age 8 years. In this analysis of nearly 2,000 children, the study team found that women who were obese before pregnancy were approximately twice as likely to report that their child had ADHD or symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention or impulsiveness, compared to children of women of normal weight before pregnancy.
The authors suggest that, if their findings are confirmed by additional studies, healthcare providers may want to screen children of obese mothers for ADHD so that they could be offered earlier interventions. The authors also note that healthcare providers could use evidence-based strategies to counsel women considering pregnancy on diet and lifestyle. Resources for plus-size pregnant women and their healthcare providers are available as part of NICHD’s Pregnancy for Every Body initiative.
About this neuroscience research article
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Parental weight status and offspring behavioral problems and psychiatric symptoms
Objectives To assess relations of prepregnancy maternal and paternal obesity with offspring behavioral problems and psychiatric symptoms at 7-8 years in the Upstate KIDS study, a prospective cohort study.
Study design Maternal body mass index (BMI) was calculated from prepregnancy height and weight provided in vital records or self-report at 4 months postpartum. Mothers reported paternal height and weight. At 7-8 years, mothers indicated if their children had been diagnosed with ADHD or anxiety (n = 1915). Additionally, children’s behavior was measured with the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire at 7 years of age (n = 1386) and the Vanderbilt ADHD Diagnostic Parent Rating Scale at 8 years of age (n = 1484). Based on Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire scores, we identified children with borderline behavioral problems. Adjusted risk ratios (aRR) and 95% CIs were estimated with robust multivariable Poisson regression.
Results Compared with children of mothers with a BMI of <25, children whose mothers had BMI 25-30, 30-35, and ≥35 kg/m2 had higher risks of reported ADHD (aRR, 1.14, 95% CI, 0.78-1.69; aRR, 1.96, 95% CI, 1.29-2.98; and aRR, 1.82, 95% CI,1.21-2.74, respectively). Risks of hyperactivity problems identified by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and a positive screen for inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive behavior with the Vanderbilt ADHD Diagnostic Parent Rating Scale were also higher with increasing maternal prepregnancy BMI. Paternal BMI was not associated with child outcomes.
Conclusions Our findings suggest that maternal, rather than paternal, obesity is associated with maternal report of child ADHD diagnosis and inattentive or hyperactivity problems. Further research is needed to understand how maternal obesity might influence these behavioral changes during or after pregnancy.