Food and Behaviour Research

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Higher maternal prenatal BMI may harm child cognition

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Children born to women with obesity should be observed closely for neurodevelopmental problems and referred as appropriate for early intervention or other supportive services, according to the authors of this study.


Once again, research shows that maternal obesity during pregnancy increases the risk of child behaviour and learning difficulties.

Many previous studies have also shown that the children of mothers with obesity before and during pregnancy have higher risks for neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, as well as for poorer behaviour and cognition in general.

This new study - involving more than 11,000 children from a general population birth cohort followed up until adolescence - found that maternal obesity in pregnancy was linked not only with lower non-verbal IQ in the children at 6.5 years of age, but with significantly poorer cognition at 16 years of age.

These negative effects on brain function in childhood and adolescence were independent of overweight and obesity in the the children themselves, and could not be explained by sociodemographic differences or paternal obesity.

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19/08/2021 - Medical Xpress

Emily Oken, M.D., M.P.H., from Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues examined the associations for maternal prenatal BMI with cognition and behavior of offspring born full-term in a cohort study involving 11,276 children followed from birth (1996 to 1997) to adolescence (2017 to 2019).

The researchers found that each 5-unit increase in maternal late-pregnancy BMI was associated with a lower offspring Wechsler Abbreviated Scales of Intelligence (WASI) performance intelligence quotient (IQ; −0.52 points) at 6.5 years and lower scores on five of seven NeuroTrax subscales and the global cognition score at age 16 years (−0.67 points).

After adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics, pregnancy complications, and paternal BMI, the results were similar and they were not mediated by child weight.

Higher late-pregnancy maternal BMI was associated with more behavioral problems reported by teachers but not with parent-reported behaviors. Similar results were seen for maternal BMI measures in the first trimester or postpartum.

"The most clinically relevant implication of this analysis suggests that children born to women with obesity should be observed closely for neurodevelopmental problems and referred as appropriate for early intervention or other supportive services," the authors write.