Food and Behaviour Research

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Parental Weight Status and Offspring Behavioral Problems and Psychiatric Symptoms

Robinson SL, Ghassabian A, Sundaram R, Trinh MH, Lin TC, Bell EM, Yeung E (2020) J Pediatr.  2020 Feb.  pii: S0022-3476(20)30029-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2020.01.016. [Epub ahead of print] 

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To assess relations of prepregnancy maternal and paternal obesity with offspring behavioral problems and psychiatric symptoms at 7-8 years in the Upstate KIDS study, a prospective cohort study.


Maternal body mass index (BMI) was calculated from prepregnancy height and weight provided in vital records or self-report at 4 months postpartum. Mothers reported paternal height and weight. At 7-8 years, mothers indicated if their children had been diagnosed with ADHD or anxiety (n = 1915). Additionally, children's behavior was measured with the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire at 7 years of age (n = 1386) and the Vanderbilt ADHD Diagnostic Parent Rating Scale at 8 years of age (n = 1484). Based on Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire scores, we identified children with borderline behavioral problems. Adjusted risk ratios (aRR) and 95% CIs were estimated with robust multivariable Poisson regression.


Compared with children of mothers with a BMI of <25, children whose mothers had BMI 25-30, 30-35, and ≥35 kg/m2 had higher risks of reported ADHD (aRR, 1.14, 95% CI, 0.78-1.69; aRR, 1.96, 95% CI, 1.29-2.98; and aRR, 1.82, 95% CI,1.21-2.74, respectively). Risks of hyperactivity problems identified by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and a positive screen for inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive behavior with the Vanderbilt ADHD Diagnostic Parent Rating Scale were also higher with increasing maternal prepregnancy BMI. Paternal BMI was not associated with child outcomes.


Our findings suggest that maternal, rather than paternal, obesity is associated with maternal report of child ADHD diagnosis and inattentive or hyperactivity problems. Further research is needed to understand how maternal obesity might influence these behavioral changes during or after pregnancy.


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