Food and Behaviour Research

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Prenatal exposure to a natural disaster increases risk for obesity in 5-year-old children.

Dancause KN, Laplante DP, Fraser S, Brunet A, Ciampi A, Schmitz N, King S. (2012) Pediatr Res.  71(1) 126-31; doi: 10.1038/pr.2011.18. 

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An adverse environment in utero, including exposure to prenatal maternal stress (PNMS), can result in poor birth outcomes such as low birth weight, which increases risk of later cardiometabolic diseases such as hypertension and obesity. It is unclear to what extent PNMS influences obesity risk independent of its impact on birth characteristics, especially among humans. Our objective was to determine whether PNMS resulting from a natural disaster influenced risk of childhood obesity.


Eight children with high objective PNMS exposure (14.5%) were obese compared to one child (1.8%) with low exposure (P = 0.02). Objective PNMS increased obesity risk (model 1, P = 0.02, odds ratio = 1.37) after controlling for other potential risk factors.


Results suggest that PNMS might be an independent risk factor in the development of childhood obesity.


Participants included 111 women who were pregnant during the January 1998 Québec Ice Storm or who conceived within the following 3 months and their children. We tested associations between objective and subjective PNMS from the storm and childhood obesity status at age 5½, controlling for children's birth characteristics and breastfeeding status; household socioeconomic status; maternal obstetric complications, life events and smoking during pregnancy, psychological functioning, and height (model 1, n = 111) or BMI (for a subset of 69 participants, model 2).