Pregnant women’s obesity has an impact not only on the health of their bodies, but also on their baby’s intelligence. Read on to find out what a recently published study on the subject concluded and what important information the researchers found.

2020 study of 109 pregnant women

Obesity in mothers-to-be is likely to be a factor in hindering the baby’s brain development, according to a recent study published August 11 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry by researchers at New York University Grossman School of Medicine.

Body mass index (BMI), a marker for obesity, was correlated with changes in two brain regions, the prefrontal cortex and the anterior insula. These regions play a key role in decision-making and behavior, disorders of which have previously been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and overeating. According to the National Institutes of Health, women are considered overweight if they have a body mass index of 35 or higher and obese if it exceeds 30.

In the study, which involved 109 women with body mass indexes between 25 and 47 and pregnancies between 6-9 months gestation, the research team analyzed and analyzed 197 metabolically active cell clusters in the fetal brain

. Using millions of calculations, the authors divided the analyzed groups into 16 meaningful subgroups based on more than 19,000 possible connections between pairs of neurons. They identified only 2 brain regions where connections were statistically more strongly connected by a mother’s body mass index.

The research team used MRI imaging investigations to measure fetal brain activity and communication patterns between large numbers of brain cells clustered in different regions. They then compared study participants to identify differences in how groups of neurons communicate with each other based on body mass index.

The authors caution that the study is not designed to draw a direct link between the differences found and cognitive or behavioral problems in children, as the study only looked at fetal brain activity.

Moriah Thomason, associate professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York University points out that “Our findings confirm that maternal obesity may play a role in fetal brain development, which may explain some cognitive and metabolic health concerns seen in children born to mothers with higher body index.” The specialist points out that, in the context of rising obesity rates in the US, it is more important than ever to understand that it can influence early brain development.

Moriah Thomason, associate professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York University points out that “Our findings confirm that maternal obesity may play a role in fetal brain development, which may explain some of the cognitive and metabolic health concerns seen in children born to mothers with higher body index.” The specialist points out that, in the context of rising obesity rates in the US, it is more important than ever to understand that it can influence early brain development.

Previous studies showing an association between obesity and brain development have basically looked at cognitive function in children after birth.

The 2013 study of 3412 children

The 2013 study of 3412 children

Thus, in 2013, research was published that examined the link between prenatal maternal obesity and child cognitive test scores during primary school. In this, a descriptive observational design involved 3412 US children aged 60-83 months taken from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

Their cognitive tests involved assessment of reading and math skills. The results were conclusive, demonstrating a significant association between prenatal obesity and children’s cognitive test scores that could not be explained by intrauterine, family, maternal, and child factors. Children living in disadvantaged postnatal environments may be most affected by the effects of maternal prenatal obesity.

The new research is believed to be the first to assess changes in fetal brain activity in the womb as early as 6 months gestation. Professor Thomason says this approach was designed to eliminate the potential influence of breastfeeding and other environmental factors that occur after birth, and to examine the early origins of the negative effects of body mass index on the developing brain of the baby.

In the future, the researchers want to monitor the participants’ children over time to determine whether changes in brain activity lead to ADHD, behavioral disorders and other health problems.

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