Food and Behaviour Research

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Maternal adiposity prior to pregnancy is associated with ADHD symptoms in offspring: evidence from three prospective pregnancy cohorts

Rodriguez A, Miettunen J, Henriksen TB, Olsen J, Obel C, Taanila A, Ebeling H, Linnet KM, Moilanen I, Järvelin MR. (2008) Int J Obes (Lond).  32(3) 550-7. Epub 2007 Oct 16. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here


OBJECTIVES: We examine whether pregnancy weight (pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) and/or weight gain) is related to core symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in school-age offspring.

DESIGN: Follow-up of prospective pregnancy cohorts from Sweden, Denmark and Finland within the Nordic Network on ADHD.

METHODS: Maternal pregnancy and delivery data were collected prospectively. Teachers rated inattention and hyperactivity symptoms in offspring. High scores were defined as at least one core symptom rated as 'severe' and two as 'present' (approximately 10% of children scored in this range). Logistic regression and latent class analyses were used to examine maternal pregnancy weight in relation to children's ADHD core symptoms.

RESULTS: Teacher rated 12 556 school-aged children. Gestational weight gain outside of the Institute of Medicine guidelines was not related to ADHD symptoms (below recommendations: odds ratio (OR): 0.96; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.81, 1.14; above recommendations: OR: 0.98; 95% CI: 0.82, 1.16). To examine various patterns of pre-pregnancy BMI and weight gain, we used latent class analysis and found significant associations between classes that included pre-pregnancy overweight or obesity and a high ADHD symptom score in offspring, ORs ranged between 1.37 (95% CI: 1.07, 1.75) and 1.89 (95% CI: 1.13, 3.15) adjusted for gestational age, birth weight, weight gain, pregnancy smoking, maternal age, maternal education, child gender, family structure and cohort country of origin. Children of women who were both overweight and gained a large amount of weight during gestation had a 2-fold risk of ADHD symptoms (OR: 2.10, 95% CI: 1.19, 3.72) compared to normal-weight women.

CONCLUSIONS: We show for the first time that pre-pregnancy BMI is associated with ADHD symptoms in children. Our results are of public health significance if the associations are causal and will then add ADHD symptoms in offspring to the list of deleterious outcomes related to overweight and obesity in the prenatal period.


This study found that excess weight in mothers-to-be before pregnancy predicted ADHD-type difficulties in their children.  Similar associations were seen in three different Scandinavian countries, using data from population studies of women and children followed up over time.

Increasing evidence shows that 'nutritional programming' effects in very early life can permanently influence many aspects of physical and mental health. Although many other factors can infuence the risks of ADHD and related conditions, these findings are in keeping with the idea that metabolic effects of obesity in mothers can adversely affect childrens' brain development.

With ongoing increases in overweight and obesity in both developed and developing countries, the findings of this study give serious cause for concern.