Maternal Obesity May Hinder Development Of Child’s Brain: Study

The study, led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, was published online in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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Obesity in pregnant mothers may be a contributing factor in the development of the babies’ brains, according to a new study. The study, led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, was published online in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

According to the study, the high body mass index (BMI), an indicator of obesity, is linked to changes in two brain areas, the prefrontal cortex, and anterior insula. These regions play a key role in decision-making and behaviour, with disruptions having previously been linked to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and overeating.

In study, the researchers examined 197 groups of metabolically active nerve cells in the fetal brain. Using millions of computations, the study authors divided the groups into 16 meaningful subgroups based on over 19,000 possible connections between the groups of neurons. They found only two areas of the brain where their connections to each other were statistically strongly linked to the mother’s BMI.

“Our findings affirm that a mother’s obesity may play a role in fetal brain development, which might explain some of the cognitive and metabolic health concerns seen in children born to mothers with higher BMI,” said Moriah Thomason, PhD, the Barakett Associate Professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health.

As obesity rates continue to soar in the United States, it is more important than ever to understand how the condition may impact early brain development, says Thomason, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone.

For the investigation, the research team recruited 109 women with BMIs ranging from 25 to 47. The women were all between six and nine months’ pregnant.

The investigators caution that their study was not designed to draw a direct line between the differences they found and the ultimate cognitive or behavioural problems in children. The study only looked at fetal brain activity. But, Thomason says, they now plan to follow the participants’ children over time to determine whether the brain activity changes lead to ADHD, behavioural issues and other health risks.

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