May 24, 2018
2 min read

Early pregnancy obesity, overweight linked to neurodevelopmental delay in offspring

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Polina Girchenko
Polina Girchenko

Children born to women with overweight or obesity during the early stages of pregnancy have a greater risk for neurodevelopmental delays than those born to women with normal weight, according to results from the PREDO study published in the International Journal of Obesity.

“Maternal overweight, obesity and comorbid hypertensive and diabetic disorders not only affect the health and well-being of the mother, but also impose strong intergenerational effects,” Polina Girchenko, MSc, a doctoral student in the department of psychology and logopedics at the University of Helsinki, told Endocrine Today. “Excessive prepregnancy weight seems to have a dose-response relationship with child neurodevelopmental problems: More severe maternal adiposity is associated with more neurodevelopmental problems in early childhood.”

Researchers enrolled 2,504 mother-child pairs in the Prediction and Prevention of Preeclampsia and Intrauterine Growth Restriction (PREDO) study. Researchers categorized the women as having normal weight (n = 1,741; BMI 24.99 kg/m2), overweight (n = 456; BMI 25-29.99 kg/m2) or obesity (n = 307; BMI 30 kg/m2). Researchers collected data on early pregnancy BMI, early pregnancy obesity, prepregnancy and gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, type 1 diabetes and gestational diabetes from the Finnish Medical Birth Register. Researchers then examined survey results from the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, Third Edition (ASQ-3), which consists of 30 age-appropriate items that measure communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem-solving and personal/social skills (mean age of child upon survey completion, 42.1 months).

Researchers found that compared with children of mothers with normal weight, those of mothers with obesity had between 1.81 and 2.74 greater odds of not meeting development milestones on the communication, fine and gross motor, problem-solving and personal/social skills (P < .02). Children of mothers with overweight had 2.14 greater odds of not meeting the development of communication skills milestones (P = .002). In addition, the odds of developmental delay were higher for children of mothers with preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.

In a clinical setting, physicians must utilize systematic preventive measures regarding weight management, according to Girchenko. Preventive measures include health education, targeted dietary advice and the provision of wide accessibility to non-obesogenic environments.

“Early identification of the children at risk for suboptimal neurodevelopment (prenatal exposure to excessive maternal BMI may be one of the criteria for early assessment) should allow conducting as early interventions as possible to decrease the burden of neurological morbidity in the future generation,” Girchenko said. – by Melissa J. Webb

For more information:

Polina Girchenko, MSc, can be reached at

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.