Being overweight can lead to a number of health problems. Pregnant women can also be affected. In fact, maternal obesity and neurodevelopmental problems in children have been on the rise in recent years, and scientists have found a possible link. According to research published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, children born to women with gestational diabetes and obesity are twice as likely to develop attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as children born to mothers with normal weight.
How Obesity During Pregnancy and Child ADHD are Related
About 30% of women have obesity when they first see a doctor during pregnancy, rising to 47% in women with gestational diabetes. Excessive weight gain during pregnancy in this population is a risk factor for children to develop ADHD later. The study found that pregnant women with obesity and gestational diabetes had children with long-term mental health disorders such as ADHD. The researchers didn’t find this association when these women gained a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy.
The scientists studied 1,036 children of women with gestational diabetes. ADHD was diagnosed in 13 percent of these children. The researchers found that children born to women with gestational diabetes and obesity were twice as likely to have ADHD as children born to mothers who were not severely overweight. The researchers found this association only in women with gestational diabetes, obesity, and excessive weight gain during pregnancy. They did not observe an increased risk of ADHD in children of women with gestational diabetes and obesity if these women’s weight gain during pregnancy was within the normal range.
Sons of Overweight Mothers are More Likely to Develop Behavioral Disorders
Another study found that the heavier the mothers were at the beginning of the pregnancy, the higher their risk of behavioral problems in their sons. However, the same effects were not seen in girls. Some evidence also suggests a possible association with internalizing problems such as depression. These problems can adversely affect academic performance and relationships with others. The findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study results suggest that early intervention in women to achieve a healthy weight before they become pregnant is critical to their health and the health of their offspring.
Researchers used the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) on whether maternal body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy is associated with behavior problems in school-age children. They assessed whether the effect is modified by race or sex, as well as by race and sex at the same time. The analysis included nearly 5,000 female NLSY79 study participants and their biological children studied between 1986 and 2012 as part of the NLSY Children and Young Adults (NLSYCYA) cohort. Behavior problems were assessed every two years for children ages 4-14 using the maternal report of the Behavior Problems Index (BPI), a widely used 28-item questionnaire, to determine if they had exhibited certain behaviors in the past three months. Since early adolescence is a time when behavioral problems arise, this study focused on children between the ages of nine and 11.
Approximately 65% of the mothers were normal weight, 8% were underweight and 10% were obese, including 3.5% with a BMI of 35 or greater. Underweight women were younger, less likely to be married, and had the lowest scores on education, income, and skills tests. The study showed that boys whose mothers were obese when they were born had a higher risk of behavior problems between the ages of 9 and 11. The data revealed that the heavier the mothers were at the beginning of their pregnancy, the higher the risk of their sons having behavioral problems. Boys whose mothers were underweight before pregnancy also showed a higher risk of behavior problems. The study did not show the same effects in girls, and there were no differences based on race.
Previous research looking at a variety of exposures during pregnancy (from stress to chemicals) has shown that boys tend to be more susceptible to this exposure in utero than girls.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
With numerous studies showing the dangers of being overweight during pregnancy, it is important for expectant mothers to maintain a healthy weight. Overeating can affect both your own health and that of the baby and lead to pregnancy complications. In fact, to gain the right amount of weight, all you need is an extra 300 calories per day. Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, as well as lean meat and protein. Avoid highly processed foods, convenience foods and sugar. Make sure you get enough exercise. Swimming, walking or light aerobics are recommended exercises during pregnancy. And don’t forget to relax.