KIDS
January 6, 2017

Obesity's Bad Effect on Babies' Development

Infants born to overweight parents are at risk for developmental delays in a number of areas.

People are often counseled by their health care providers to control their weight for their own good. But what if the risk is not confined just to the overweight individual?

A recent study shows that when parents are overweight, it can slow their children's development.

Researchers looked at the effect parents' weight had on the achievement of developmental milestones in their young children. They followed over 4800 babies and their parents, starting when the children were 4 months old, through data obtained from a program called Upstate KIDS.

Developmental milestones were monitored at regular intervals until the children were 36 months old, using a standardized questionnaire that covered the five major domains of development: fine motor, gross motor, communication, personal-social functioning and problem-solving ability.

When both parents were obese, kids were at higher risk of falling behind in problem-solving, fine motor and personal-social areas of development.

Infants and toddlers whose mother and/or father were overweight were compared over the first three years of life to children whose parents were normal or underweight.

Children whose mothers had a BMI of 30 or greater had increased odds of failing fine motor developmental tests. When only the fathers were obese, their children showed an increased risk of failing in the personal-social domain. When both parents were obese, kids were at higher risk of also falling behind in problem-solving in addition to fine motor and personal-social areas.

The study is the first to look at the effects of fathers' weight as well as mothers'. Based on animal evidence, the researchers link obesity in mothers to the increased presence of inflammatory cells in the fetal circulation, as well as evidence of inflammation in the placenta. This inflammatory state has a negative effect on the developing fetus that may be linked to the risk of developmental delay.

When fathers are obese, their excess weight has an effect on their sperm: it alters the expression of the genetic material in the DNA. This may also negatively impact development. Elevated blood sugar or shortages of certain nutrients in parents who are seriously overweight or obese can have a negative influence on brain development, the researchers suggest.

Identifying offspring of obese parents can be used as a way to begin closer developmental surveillance and early intervention in those children who are put at risk by their parents' weight.

This study offers yet another reason for adults, especially those contemplating parenthood, to control their weight and aim for a healthy body mass index. If you are worried about your BMI, you can check your BMI below.

The study is published in Pediatrics.

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