Pregnant women who have both severe obesity and diabetes may be more likely to have children with autism, ADHD and other psychiatric disorders, a new study suggests.
These disorders are likely caused by a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors, including the mother’s health and dietary habits while she is pregnant.¬†
In the US, more than half of pregnant women are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for gestational diabetes.¬†¬†
According to the new Swedish study, even without diabetes, severely obese mothers were 67 percent more likely to have children with mood and stress disorders than women who maintained a healthy weight during pregnancy.
With preexisting diabetes, obese mothers were more than six times as likely as other women to have children with ADHD, conduct issues or autism.
Women who have both obesity and diabetes are more than six times more likely to have children that struggle with ADHD or other psychiatric and emotional disorders¬†
These kids were also more than four times as likely to have emotional disorders.
A mother’s obesity endangers her and her baby in a number of ways during her pregnancy, yet the obesity epidemic continues to affect a majority of pregnant American women.¬†
And it’s only becoming more common.¬†¬†
This raises the risks that she will develop gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and that she will miscarry.¬†
Now, researchers have discovered another risk that may follow her child for the duration of her or his life.¬†¬†
‘We found marked risks only for mothers with both severe obesity and insulin-treated diabetes,’ when they became pregnant, said senior study author Dr Catharina Lavebratt, a researcher at Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden.
‘Diabetes with onset during the pregnancy did not imply any marked effect on the risk for psychiatric disorder in the children,’ Lavebratt said by email.
While the absolute risk of these problems was low – for example less than one percent of the children had autism or ADHD – the results offer fresh evidence that the combined impact of obesity and diabetes on offspring may be worse than either condition on its own, the authors write in Pediatrics.
For the study researchers examined data on almost 650,000 live births in Finland between 2004 and 2014. They followed children from birth through the end of the study, up to age 11 years in some cases.
Mothers were a healthy weight at the start of the majority of these pregnancies. But they were overweight 21 percent of the time, obese in nearly eight percent of cases and severely obese in almost four percent of the pregnancies.
Only 4,000 women, or less than one percent, had diabetes when they conceived. Researchers focused only on women with type 2 diabetes, which is associated with obesity.
Overall, almost 35,000 kids, or about 5.4 percent, were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder during the study period. This total included developmental delays in things like speech and motor skills in addition to conditions like autism, conduct disorders or ADHD.
Obese mothers were 69 percent more likely than normal-weight women to have kids with neurodevelopmental disorders and 88 percent more likely to have children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or conduct problems.
The study wasn’t designed to prove whether or how obesity or diabetes alone or in combination might make women more likely to have children with psychiatric problems.
Another limitation, the authors note, is that they only followed babies born later in the study for a short period of time.
In addition, the study only counted women as diabetic if they were prescribed insulin, which is usually reserved for more severe cases. Researchers also identified obesity at one point in time, and the amount of weight women gain during pregnancy may independently influence children’s risk of many physical and mental health problems.
Still, the results underscore the potential for a range of neurodevelopmental disorders to have environmental origins that could potentially be predicted and prevented in some cases, said Dr Xiaobin Wang, director of the Center on the Early Life Origins of Disease at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
‘Reproductive age women can take an active role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight,’ Wang, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
‘Pregnant women can adhere to gestational weight gain and healthy pregnancy recommendations,’ Wang added. ‘And newborns’ future risk can be evaluated and preemptive interventions could be initiated early in life.’