Obesity During Pregnancy Linked to Slow Development and IQ

Shirley Amy
January 6, 2020

An alarming new study which has just been published in BMC Pediatrics, has shown that if a mother is obese while she is pregnant, then later down the line, the child’s mental development could be impeded. To be specific, in this research project, the scientists found: “lagging motor skills in preschoolers and lower IQ in middle male childhood whose mothers were severely overweight while pregnant.” 


Taking a Closer Look at the Research

A number of top environmental health researchers, nutritionists and epidemiologists, from the University of Texas (Austin), and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, determined that: “the differences are comparable to the impact of lead exposure in early childhood.”

The research involved 368 moms and their children, all of whom were from similar neighborhoods and economic circumstances. The analysis was done at the time they were pregnant, and when their sons and daughters were aged three and seven. The families who took part in the project, were involved in the New York City urban birth cohort study, which was led by the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health.

No Effect on the Girls

While the daughters were not affected by the weight of their mothers during pregnancy: “at age 3, the researchers measured the children’s motor skills and found that maternal obesity during pregnancy was strongly associated with lower motor skills in boys. At age 7, they again measured the children and found that the boys whose mothers were overweight or obese in pregnancy had scores 5 or more points lower on full-scale IQ tests, compared to boys whose mothers had been at a normal weight.” This is quite a substantial difference, and while more research is needed, it should be a potential cause for concern.

A co-author of the study, UT Austin’s assistant professor of nutritional sciences, Elizabeth Widen, remarked: “what’s striking is, even using different age-appropriate developmental assessments, we found these associations in both early and middle childhood, meaning these effects persist over time. These findings aren’t meant to shame or scare anyone. We are just beginning to understand some of these interactions between mothers’ weight and the health of their babies.”

Interesting Previous Research

Interestingly, existing research shows a connection between a mom’s diet and the  development of cognitive abilities; for example, greater IQ levels in children whose moms have more of a particular form of fatty acids (which are consumed by eating certain fish). Driving factors could be down to

behavioral and dietary differences; or the development of the fetus could be impacted by: “some of the things that tend to happen in the bodies of people with a lot of extra weight, such as inflammation, metabolic stress, hormonal disruptions and high amounts of insulin and glucose.”

Advice For Pregnant Women

The researchers have made a number of recommendations for overweight or obese women, once they become pregnant. These are: “to eat a well-balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, take a prenatal vitamin, stay active, and make sure to get enough fatty acids such as the kind found in fish oil.” Ensuring that children have a nurturing home environment, is also very important.

Shirley Amy

Shirley Amy is a Holistic Health Specialist and professional writer who's published 4 books. Her  interests include optimum wellness, mental health, fitness, and positive lifestyle change. She holds University and College qualifications in the fields of Health Science, Nutrition, Mental Health, Fitness, Holistic Therapy and Aromatherapy.

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