Prenatal exposure to very severe maternal obesity is associated with adverse neuropsychiatric outcomes in children.


BACKGROUND: Prenatal maternal obesity has been linked to adverse childhood neuropsychiatric outcomes, including increased symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), internalizing and externalizing problems, affective disorders and neurodevelopmental problems but few studies have studied neuropsychiatric outcomes among offspring born to very severely obese women or assessed potential familial confounding by maternal psychological distress. METHOD: We evaluated neuropsychiatric symptoms in 112 children aged 3-5 years whose mothers had participated in a longitudinal study of obesity in pregnancy (50 very severe obesity, BMI 40 kg/m2, obese class III and 62 lean, BMI 18.5-25 kg/m2). The mothers completed the Conners’ Hyperactivity Scale, Early Symptomatic Syndrome Eliciting Neurodevelopmental Clinical Examination Questionnaire (ESSENCE-Q), Child’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire (CSHQ), Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), and Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) to assess child neuropsychiatric symptoms. Covariates included child’s sex, age, birthweight, gestational age, socioeconomic deprivation levels, maternal age, parity, smoking status during pregnancy, gestational diabetes and maternal concurrent symptoms of anxiety and depression assessed using State Anxiety of Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Index (STAI) and General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), respectively. RESULTS: Children exposed to prenatal maternal very severe obesity had significantly higher scores in the Conners’ Hyperactivity Scale; ESSENCE-Q; total sleep problems in CSHQ; hyperactivity, conduct problems and total difficulties scales of the SDQ; higher externalizing and total problems, anxious/depressed, aggressive behaviour and other problem syndrome scores and higher DSM-oriented affective, anxiety and ADHD problems in CBCL. Prenatal maternal very severe obesity remained a significant predictor of child neuropsychiatric problems across multiple scales independent of demographic factors, prenatal factors and maternal concurrent symptoms of anxiety and depression. CONCLUSIONS: Prenatal maternal very severe obesity is a strong predictor of increased neuropsychiatric problems in early childhood.