Children born from obese parents may be at risk of developmental delays, according to a new research. Obese mothers could affect their children’s ability to control movement while obese fathers might affect babies’ social competencies. If both parents are overweight, children are more likely to fail tests of problem-solving skills.
A new study published today in the journal Pediatrics shows that not only the mother’s weight but also the father’s weight can affect baby’s development.
National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) conducted the study and assessed over 5 thousand women that became mothers.
The investigation is one of the few studies that evaluated both mother’s and father’s weight compared to previous studies that only examined the effects of mom’s pre and post-pregnancy weight to their children’s development. Study’s first author Edwina Yeung, Ph.D. an investigator in NICHD’s Division of Intramural Population Health Research stated that the research results suggest that dad’s weight is also significant when it comes to child development.
Assessing data that was originally meant to other studies
Researchers reviewed data collected from the Upstate KIDS study, which initially collected information from 2008 to 2010 to determine if fertility treatments could affect baby’s development from birth through age three.
More than 5 thousand women enrolled in the study around four months after giving birth in New York State. The study did not include moms in New York City, and it evaluated over 6 thousand children.
Parents completed the Ages and Stages Questionnaire after performing different activities with their children to assess their development. The questionnaire was considered a screening tool to indicate whether a child was on track for behaviors appropriate to the baby’s age.
The survey was designed to assess development progress and pinpoint delays in children up to age six and mother’s data, including weight before and after pregnancy and the weight of their partners. It also considered factors associated with obesity, such as lower income and education, smoking and alcohol intake.
The tests were not used to diagnose specific disabilities. It served as a screen for potential problems so children could be referred for further treatment, authors explained.
Children were assessed at four months of age and underwent the same tests six more times through age three. The study found that depending on which parent was obese, children had specific development delays.
Children of obese fathers were 75 percent more likely to fail test indicators that assessed the child’s personal social domain. This index evaluated how well babies were able to relate to and interact with others by age three and discovered children born to obese fathers experienced difficulty in said social process.
When it came to obese mothers, nearly 70 percent of babies were more likely to have failed the test indicator on fine motor skills by age three. The index evaluated infants’ ability to control movements of small muscles, such as those in the fingers and hands. Questions assessing motor skills asked if the child could turn the pages of a book or whether he or she could stack blocks.
Children with two obese parents were nearly three times more likely to fail the test’s problem-solving section by age three.
Researchers do not know why obesity causes developmental delays
The study did not seek to explain how parental obesity affected children although researchers have some theories.
“Our study wasn’t designed to prove cause and effect. At this point, we only have correlations between parents’ BMI and children’s scores on a screening questionnaire,” Yeung stressed.
Yeung added that obesity is correlated with a rise in inflammation and in hormones that regulate body fat and metabolism. Several theories point out that those hormones might influence the development of the baby’s brain.
The authors also noted that animal experiments indicated that obesity during pregnancy might promote inflammation, which could affect the fetal brain. Other studies have suggested that obesity could influence the expression of genes in sperm.
Other theories are that high blood sugar or a shortage of specific nutrients might affect the brain development, but scientists have to carry more studies to determine why obesity affects children’s development.
The authors wrote that once the link between parental obesity and developmental delays is confirmed, doctors could take parental weight into consideration when screening young children for difficulties in motor, social, and problem-solving skills.
Obesity in the United States
More than one-third (36.5 percent) of U.S: adults have obesity. An overweight adult is considered to have a body mass index between 25 to 30 while obese adults have a BMI over 30.
Obesity results from a combination of causes and contributing factors, including individual factors such as behavior and genetics, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If the study results are confirmed, child developmental delay could be added to obesity’s consequences list along with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.