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December 23, 2019

Maternal obesity during pregnancy may harm son's motor skills, IQ

Women's Health Pregnancy
Pregnancy Obesity Source/

The effects of obesity during pregnancy could have lasting effects on boys in to early and middle childhood, such as reduced motor skills and a lower IQ, according to research out of the University of Texas at Austin.

Boys who are born to mothers who were obese during pregnancy may suffer from underdeveloped motor skills and a lower IQ, according to a nutrition researchers who tracked hundreds of families.

A study published in BMC Pediatrics followed the lives of 368 mothers and their children from pregnancy through seven years of age, assessing the physical and mental development of sons born to obese mothers.

All of the women and children in the study came from similar economic circumstances and neighborhoods, with controls in place for race and ethnicity, marital status, mothers' IQ and environmental factors such as premature birth and exposure to environmental toxins.

Maternal obesity was strongly associated with lower motor skills in boys at age 3 and lower IQ scores at age 7, researchers found.

"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," said Elizabeth Widen, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-author of the study. "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."

The researchers were not certain why boys would continue to have motor and cognitive issues long after birth, but believe dietary factors and behavioral habits may play a role in fetal development. Problems such as inflammation, metabolic stress, hormonal disruptions and high amounts of insulin and glucose could all potentially impact the fetus with lasting effects into middle childhood.

Notably, the study found that children in nurturing environments where they were provided with toys and books were not as dramatically affected as children in less supportive situations.

The study follows previous research suggesting that boys appear to be more vulnerable in utero than girls with respect to other health risks, such as lead and fluoride exposure.

The findings suggest that women who are overweight during pregnancy should establish a well-balanced diet, take prenatal vitamins, stay active and work with a physician to discuss a healthy plan to address weight concerns.

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