Key study points:
1. Maternal pre-pregnancy BMI is negatively associated with cognitive test scores at ages 5 and 7.
2. Children born to a mother with an elevated BMI were themselves more likely to have an elevated BMI at ages 5 and 7.
Primer: Obesity affects more than 1 in 3 women in the United States over the age of 20. Maternal obesity is associated with considerable risk to both the mother and fetus throughout the perinatal period. For the child, maternal obesity has been associated with behavioral problems, including attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD); however, it remains unclear if this association is due to effects of the intrauterine environment or if these findings are due to confounding variables such as socioeconomic status or maternal diabetes. The effect of maternal obesity on children’s neurodevelopmental and cognitive outcomes has also not been extensively studied in humans.
This [secondary analysis] study was carried out in the UK and consisted of 19,517 children; these results came from a secondary data analysis. Maternal pre-pregnancy and post-pregnancy BMI was retrospectively self-reported at 9 months. Children born to these mothers underwent standardized cognitive testing. Cognitive testing revealed a significant negative correlation between the children’s tests scores and maternal pre-pregnancy BMI. Specifically, maternal BMI elevation by 10 points was associated with a 1/10th of a standard deviation decrease in test scores at age 7. At age 7, test scores were decreased in all cognitive domains: verbal ability, spatial visualization, and math. The negative association of BMI with cognitive testing was apparent even when adjusted for socioeconomic background, child’s birth weight, child’s BMI, maternal smoking, and maternal diabetes.
In sum: This study demonstrates a convincing negative association between maternal pre-pregnancy BMI and children’s cognitive test scores at ages 5 and 7. Two important strengths of this study were the population size, 19,517 children, and the thoroughness of the analysis of confounding variables.
By [SS] and [DB]
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