Food and Behaviour Research

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13 July 2017 - Science Daily - Maternal obesity during pregnancy may be linked to behavioral problems in boys

Maternal obesity and child neurodevelopmental problems have both increased in the U.S. and scientists have suggested a possible link.


Once again, research finds that obesity in mothers before pregnancy is associated with behaviour problems in the resulting children - although in this study the negative effects were seen only in boys.  See the associated research here:

Substantial evidence from both human studies (which cannot prove causality) and animal studies (which can) now shows that overweight and obesity in mothers before or during pregnancy raises the risks for disorders of mood, behaviour and learning in their children, including ADHD, autism and language delays as well as anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

A recent UK report found that 50% of mothers-to-be are overweight or obese when starting pregnancy

Good evidence now indicates that this not only increases the chances of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in their children, but that the obesity crisis is also compromising the mental health and development of the next generation.

For more information, see these news articles:

And for further information on research in this area, see:

A new study has found that the heavier mothers were when they entered pregnancy, the higher the risk of behavior problems for their sons. However, it did not show the same effects in girls. The results are reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"The study results suggest that early intervention with women to attain healthy weights before they become pregnant is critical to their health and the health of their future children," commented senior investigator Barbara Abrams, DrPH, of the Division of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 15 out of every 100 women of childbearing age are severely obese. Recent studies have linked high maternal weight, before and during pregnancy, to child behavior and particularly to problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some evidence also points to a possible link with internalizing problems, such as depression. These problems can have negative effects on school performance and relationships with others.

Researchers used the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) to investigate whether maternal pre-pregnancy body-mass index (BMI) is associated with behavioral problems among school-age children. They assessed whether the effect is modified by race or gender, as well as by race and gender simultaneously. This analysis included nearly 5,000 female NLSY79 study participants and their biological children, who were studied between 1986 and 2012 as part of the NLSY Children and Young Adults (NLSYCYA) cohort. Behavioral problems were assessed every two years for children aged 4-14 years using maternal report of the Behavior Problems Index (BPI), a widely used 28-item questionnaire, to determine whether they exhibited specific behaviors in the past three months. Because early puberty is a time when behavioral problems tend to emerge, this study focused on children aged 9-11 years.

Approximately 65% percent of the mothers were normal weight, 8% underweight, and 10% obese, of whom 3.5% were BMI 35 or higher. Underweight women were younger, less likely to be married, and had the lowest education, income, and Armed Forces Qualifying Test scores.

The study showed that boys whose mothers entered pregnancy obese were at higher risk for behavior problems at ages 9-11 years. Data indicated that the heavier mothers were when they entered pregnancy, the higher the risk for behavioral problems to develop in their sons. Boys whose mothers were underweight pre-pregnancy also showed higher risk for behavior problems. The study did not show the same effects in girls, and there were no differences for race.

"Past research looking at a variety of exposures during pregnancy (ranging from stress to chemicals) has shown that boys tend to be more vulnerable to these exposures in utero than girls," explained investigator Juliana Deardorff, PhD, of the Community Health Sciences Division, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley. "Our study extends this work to maternal obesity."

"It is the first study to document gender differences, and one of a handful of studies to show that pre-pregnancy underweight, in addition to obesity, may be problematic," she continued. "Future research should examine whether the gender differences reported here for ages 9-11 years persist into adolescence or shift as children get older."