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How parental obesity can affect developmental outcomes in children

Children of obese parents may be at risk for developmental delays according to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Edwina Yeung, Ph.D., noted in particular that the previous U.S. studies in this area have only focused on the mother’s pre- and post-pregnancy weight, so they decided to go a step further.

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“Our study is one of the few that also includes information about fathers, and our results suggest that dad’s weight also has significant influence on child development,” she said.

Researchers used data collected from the Upstate KIDS study, which included 5,000-plus women who enrolled in the study roughly four months after giving birth in New York state between 2008 and 2010.

Children in the study were tested at 4 months of age and retested six more times through age 3. Upon entering the study, mothers provided information on their health and weight, before and after pregnancy, as well as the weight of their partners.

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The scientists at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that compared to children of normal-weight mothers, children of obese mothers were nearly 70 percent more likely to have failed the test indicator on fine motor skills by age 3. Children of obese fathers were 75 percent more likely to fail the test’s personal-social domain — an indicator of how well they were able to relate to and interact with others by age 3. Children with two obese parents were nearly three times more likely to fail the test’s problem-solving section by age 3.

Researchers don’t know for sure why parents who are obese might have children who are at risk for developmental delays. They do note that animal studies indicate that obesity during pregnancy may promote inflammation, which could affect the fetal brain. The authors also added that some studies have indicated that obesity could affect the expression of genes in sperm.

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Yeung has said that their study wasn’t designed to prove cause and effect.

“At this point, we have correlations between parents’ BMI and children’s scores on a screening questionnaire,” she explained.

The researchers at the NICHD further said that if the link between parental obesity and developmental delays is confirmed, physicians may need to take parental weight into account when screening young children for delays and early intervention services.

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