Maternal Obesity and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes

If there were not enough reasons to be concerned about the prevalence of obesity already, here’s another: there is growing evidence that maternal obesity (i.e. obesity in the mother at the beginning or prior to pregnancy) is associated with an increased risk for a number of neurodevelopment outcomes (J Pediatr 2014; 165: 891-6).  According to this medical progress report, there are a number of limitations in interpreting the studies associating obesity with these outcomes.

  1. Unclear what is the best measure of obesity and the best timing of measuring obesity
  2. “It is unclear whether obesity per se is the entity that causes adverse outcomes, or whether  obesity is only a marker for other factors” (eg. diet and activity)

With these limitations in mind, the authors review a number of studies.  Key points:

  • Cerebral palsy: “a dose-response relationship was seen, with any diagnosis of maternal obesity carrying a relative risk (RR) of 1.30 (95% CI 1.09-1.55) for CP.  With any diagnosis of morbid obesity, the RR was 2.70 (CI 1.89-3.86)
  • Autism: the risk of developing ASD (OR 1.67; CI 1.10-2.56) and NDD [neurodevelopmental delay] (OR 2.08; CI 1.20-3.61)
  • Cognitive deficits: maternal BMI “was inversely associated wit age 5 years IQ”
  • Behavioral/psychiatric disorders: “children of women who were both overweight and gained excess weight during pregnancy had a 2-fold (OR 2.10; CI 1.19-3.72) increased risk of ADHD symptoms compared with offspring of normal-weight women.” Also, some studies have shown an increased risk for schizophrenia in children of mothers with BMI >30.

Bottomline: obesity is not good for individuals and is associated with increased neuodevelopmental risk in offspring as well.



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