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Childhood ADHD Linked to Obesity in Mothers

The risk factors of ADHD can begin as early as pregnancy; Cesarean birth, nutritional deficiencies in the mother, and maternal stress can all set the stage for a childhood of inattention and hyperactivity. Of all these possible causes maternal obesity seems the least likely suspect, but a new study published in the Journal of Child Psychology shows that kids are twice as likely to experience the symptoms of ADHD if their mother was obese or overweight during pregnancy.

These findings were confirmed in a large-scale national study held in Sweden.  The study looked at 1,714 mothers who were pregnant in 1999 and 2000.  The mothers' Body Mass Index was obtained while they were pregnant, and organized into four categories: obese (30 or more), overweight (25-29.99), normal weight (20-24.99), and underweight (15-19.99).  Five years later, their children were assessed for emotional intelligence and ADHD symptoms using self-report questionnaires answered by the mothers and teachers.  Other factors such as socio-economic status, stress during pregnancy, the child's weight, depressive symptoms, and cigarette/alcohol intake were also taken into account.

After running the numbers, the researchers noted that 28% of the mothers were overweight and 10% were obese.  The obese mothers were found to experience more depression and negative emotions than mothers in the other three categories.  According to the teacher reports, children from obese mothers had twice the number of symptoms of inattention than children from mothers with normal weight. 

These findings raise a lot of interesting questions about the onset of ADHD that was not tackled by the study.  If obesity is associated with depression, is it possible that depression during pregnancy, rather than obesity, is the risk factor for ADHD?   Obese mothers are also observed to have children with low birth weight, which a number of studies have linked to ADHD.  Could low birth weight be the link between ADHD and maternal obesity?  

Despite the study's limitations, its conclusions provide compelling new evidence for the environmental triggers behind some facets of ADHD.  Although there is nothing that can be done about its genetic inheritability, the onset of ADHD itself can still be prevented in some cases by maintaining a healthy maternal weight, living a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy, and promoting the same healthy living to the child.