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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Maternal Obesity in Pregnancy Affects Sons’ Development and IQ, Comparable to Impact of Lead Exposure

A mother’s obesity in pregnancy can affect her child’s development for years, according to researchers who found lagging motor skills in preschoolers and lower IQ in middle childhood for boys whose mothers were severely overweight while pregnant. Epidemiologists and environmental health researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and UT Austin found that the differences are comparable to the impact of lead exposure in early childhood. Findings are in BMC Pediatrics.

The researchers studied 368 mothers and their children from similar economic circumstances and neighborhoods, during pregnancy and when the children were 3 and 7 years old. At 3, the researchers found that maternal obesity during pregnancy was strongly associated with lower motor skills in boys. At 7, they found that the boys whose mothers were overweight or obese in pregnancy had scores 5 or more points lower on IQ tests, compared to boys whose mothers had been at a normal weight. No effect was found in girls. This is not the first study to find that boys appear to be more vulnerable in utero.

The families involved in the research participated in the urban birth cohort study in New York City led by the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia Mailman School.

Co-authors Andrew Rundle of Columbia Mailman School and Elizabeth Widen at UT noted dietary and behavioral differences may be driving factors, or fetal development may be affected by a lot of extra weight, such as inflammation, metabolic stress, hormonal disruptions and high amounts of insulin and glucose.

Because childhood IQ is a predictor of education level, socio-economic status and professional success later in life, researchers say there is potential for impacts to last into adulthood.

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