Food and Behaviour Research

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Sleep and Diet: Why Sleep Matters for Wellbeing and its Links with Nutrition - BOOK HEREE

The role of maternal obesity in the risk of neuropsychiatric disorders

Rivera HM, Christiansen KJ, Sullivan EL. (2015) Front Neurosci.  9 194. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2015.00194. eCollection 2015. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here. Free full text of this article is available online


Recent evidence indicates that perinatal exposure to maternal obesity, metabolic disease, including diabetes and hypertension, and unhealthy maternal diet has a long-term impact on offspring behavior and physiology. During the past three decades, the prevalence of both obesity and neuropsychiatric disorders has rapidly increased.

Epidemiologic studies provide evidence that maternal obesity and metabolic complications increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders (food addiction, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa), and impairments in cognition in offspring.

Animal models of maternal high-fat diet (HFD) induced obesity also document persistent changes in offspring behavior and impairments in critical neural circuitry. Animals exposed to maternal obesity and HFD consumption display hyperactivity, impairments in social behavior, increased anxiety-like and depressive-like behaviors, substance addiction, food addiction, and diminished cognition.

During development, these offspring are exposed to elevated levels of nutrients (fatty acids, glucose), hormones (leptin, insulin), and inflammatory factors (C-reactive protein, interleukin, and tumor necrosis factor). Such factors appear to permanently change neuroendocrine regulation and brain development in offspring.

In addition, inflammation of the offspring brain during gestation impairs the development of neural pathways critical in the regulation of behavior, such as serotoninergic, dopaminergic, and melanocortinergic systems. Dysregulation of these circuits increases the risk of 
mental health disorders.

Given the high rates of obesity in most developed nations, it is critical that the mechanisms by which maternal obesity programs offspring behavior are thoroughly characterized. Such knowledge will be critical in the development of preventative strategies and therapeutic interventions.


Obesity is associated with metabolic and inflammatory changes that can lead to many serious health problems - both physical and mental. 

Substantial evidence now indicates that maternal obesity before and during pregnancy can also adversely affect mental as well as physical health and development in the resulting children - and that these harmful effects are lifelong.

As this review documents, human studies have shown that obesity in mothers-to-be predicts higher rates of ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders and cognitive problems in the children; and animal studies have provided clear evidence of causal mechanisms that can explain these observations.

Futher research is clearly needed - but in the meanwhile, raising awareness of these links between maternal obesity and child behaviour might help provide additional motivation for efforts to promote healthier eating and reduce obesity.

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