Study Finds a Mother’s Obesity is Linked to ADHD in Child 

A collaborative study conducted with the University at Albany found that a mother who is overweight may increase her child’s risk for ADHD. Pictured: An Upstate Kids study subject with a researcher. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 16, 2020) – A study conducted by the University at Albany, the National Institutes of Health and New York University School of Medicine found that a mother who is overweight may increase her child’s risk for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Published in JAMA Pediatrics, the research team’s analysis of nearly 2,000 children found that women who were obese before pregnancy were more likely to report that their child had ADHD or symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention or impulsiveness, compared to children of women of normal weight before pregnancy. The analysis found that fathers being obese did not have the same effect. These findings suggest that maternal weight before and during pregnancy may alter the in-utero conditions during pregnancy that may influence the development of these outcomes.

The team, including Erin Bell, professor of Environmental Health Sciences at UAlbany’s School of Public Health, used data from the Upstate KIDS study. Upstate KIDS is an ongoing cohort-based study co-led by Bell that tracks the ongoing growth, motor and social development of more than 6,000 babies born to 5,000 mothers in 57 counties of upstate New York excluding New York City.

The researchers calculated maternal body mass index (BMI) using the mothers’ self reported height and weight prior to pregnancy. Mothers also reported paternal height and weight. When children were 7-8 years, mothers indicated if their children had been diagnosed with ADHD or anxiety. Behavior was also assessed with screening questionnaires to identify children at risk for behavioral problems but who had not been diagnosed with ADHD or anxiety.

“Though more research is needed, this collaborative study led by our colleagues at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development suggests that healthcare providers may consider screening children of mothers defined as obese prior to pregnancy for ADHD so that they could be offered earlier interventions,” said Bell.


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