New findings suggest that parental obesity increases the odds that their children will experience developmental delays, with both maternal and paternal obesity associated with different domains of developmental delay.
As part of the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers assessed nearly 5000 children, between the ages of 4 and 36 months, for developmental delays of fine motor, gross motor, communications, personal-social functioning, and problem-solving abilities. Developmental delays describe skills that children don’t attain by the expected age.
Researchers found that children of obese mothers were more likely to exhibit delays in fine motor development than children of normal or underweight mothers. Children of obese fathers experienced a higher incidence of personal-social developmental delays.
The findings suggest a positive relationship between body mass and developmental delay risk, as the investigators linked severe cases of parental obesity with worse outcomes in children. If both parents had a BMI of 35 or higher (on the more upper end of obesity), children faced an increased risk of delays in developing problem-solving abilities on top of fine-motor and personal-social skills. In contrast, overweight in either parent (a BMI between 25 and 30) did not increase the risk of developmental delays in their offspring.
Obesity Potentially Detrimental Even Before Conception
These findings are significant as 20 percent of pregnant women are obese as they enter into pregnancy. The authors of the study cited evidence that obesity in the mother can cause inflammation during prenatal brain development, nutritional deficiencies, high blood sugar, and formation issues with the serotonin system. For fathers, epigenetic alterations to sperm as well as problems stemming from inflammation may be the aggravating factors in developmental delay risk.
Low-Income Communities Face Higher Incidence of Developmental Delays
The authors of the study pointed out that mothers of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to be obese and have a partner who was also overweight, a reality that highlights the increased risk that children face of experiencing developmental delays in low-income communities, even after controlling for other factors.
More studies are uncovering a complex set of factors that put children at risk for developmental delays, elements that may not always be obvious to a parent. A separate study based in La Romana, Dominican Republic — where a third of its population lives in poverty and nearly 1 in 10 are diagnosed with a developmental delay — revealed the effects that spanking has on a child’s developmental health. Approximately 43 percent of caregivers involved in the study reported spanking their children, unaware that they were contributing to a fivefold increase in the risk of developmental delays in children.
Both the findings of the obesity and spanking study suggest that more resources should be allocated for potential parents and caregivers in low-income communities to provide education and health services that work to reduce the risk of developmental delays in children significantly.
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