Obesity during pregnancy could impact development and IQ in boy child

Researchers suggest that a good nurturing environment at home could help in reducing the negative effects of maternal obesity

Boys who are born to obese mothers have lower motor skills at age three and a lower IQ at age seven, new research published in BMC Pediatrics has found..

A team of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Columbia University analysed data of 368 mothers along with their children. The women were asked to self-report their weight during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy by the researchers, who also tested their children's motor skills and IQ level at the ages of three and seven.

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The study also took several other factors, including the mother's education and if the children were born prematurely into account while analyzing the data. When compared with boys whose mothers had been at normal weight, boys whose mothers had been overweight scored 5 or more points lower on full-scale IQ tests at the age of seven years.

The study author Elizabeth Widen said: "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."

"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."

Nurturing environment at home

The researchers also suggested that a good nurturing environment at home could help in reducing the negative effects of maternal obesity. They analyzed how the parents interacted with their children at home and whether the kids were given books and toys. However, Widen said: "The effect on IQ was smaller in nurturing home environments, but it was still there."

The researchers revealed that being obese during pregnancy had no effect on a girl child's motor skills development or IQ. This is not the first research to have established a link between a child's IQ and obesity during pregnancy. In 2018, a study had found that boys of mothers who were exposed to lead during pregnancy had lower IQ. But girls were not affected by such obese conditions. Later in 2019, another report stated that boys whose mothers were exposed to fluoride during pregnancy also scored lower on an IQ assessment.

According to Widen, pregnant mothers who are obese or overweight should have a well-balanced diet that is high in fruits, vegetables and fatty acids from fish. They must take a prenatal vitamin and keep themselves active. "Work with your doctor and talk about what is appropriate for your circumstances," Widen added.