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Does Parents’ Obesity Impact Toddlers’ Developmental Skills?

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Children, whose parents are obese, may show signs of developmental delays by the time they are 3 years old, according to a new study.

The specific developmental problems seem to differ depending on whether the mother, father or both parents are obese, according to researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

"Specifically, mothers' obesity was associated with a delay in achieving fine-motor skills, and fathers' obesity in achieving personal and social skills -- that includes skills for interacting with others," said lead researcher Edwina Yeung. She's an investigator in the institute's division of intramural population health research.

"When both parents were obese, it meant longer time to develop problem-solving skills," she added.

Not everyone agrees with the researchers’ conclusion. At least one pediatric neurologist suggests that the results don’t necessarily prove a direct cause and effect.

And Yeung acknowledges the same. "We used observational data, which doesn't allow us to prove cause and effect, per se," she explained.

What the researchers found was interesting though. Compared with children of normal-weight mothers, children of obese mothers were 67 percent more likely to fail a test of fine-motor skills (using their hands and fingers) by age 3.

In addition, children of obese fathers were about 71 percent more likely to fail tests of personal and social skills, which may indicate how well they relate to and interact with others, by age 3, the researchers said.

Children whose mother and father were both obese were nearly three times more likely to fail tests of problem-solving ability by age 3, according to the researchers’ findings.

Most research into understanding child health and development has focused on mothers and their pregnancies. "Our findings suggest that factors from fathers may also play a role and deserve attention," Yeung said.

One child health expert doesn't think obese parents should be overly concerned by this study.

"Children of obese parents are not doomed to have developmental problems," said Dr. Ian Miller. He is a pediatric neurologist and director of Neuroinformatics at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami.

There’s a long list of other conditions that can also impact the brain such as lead-poisoning, sickle cell disease, iron-deficiency anemia, autism, epilepsy or cerebral palsy—any of which can cause developmental problems, Miller said. He isn't ready, however, to add obesity to that list.

But, obesity may increase the risks of these health problems, Miller says. The probability for developmental problems is low among all children, including those of obese parents. "It's not a 'sky is falling' type of scenario," he said.

For the study, Yeung and her colleagues collected data on more than 5,000 women and their children who were part of the Upstate KIDS study, which sought to determine if fertility treatments could affect child development from birth through age 3.

The women were enrolled in the study about four months after giving birth in New York state, excluding New York City, between 2008 and 2010.

About one in five pregnant women in the United States is overweight or obese, Yeung said.

To check the children's development, parents completed the Ages and Stages Questionnaire after doing a series of activities with their children, Yeung said.

The test doesn't diagnose specific problems, but is a screen for potential problems, so that children can be referred for further testing, she explained.

The children were tested at 4 months and six more times through age 3 years. Mothers also gave information on their health and weight, both before and after pregnancy, and the weight of their partners, Yeung said.

More studies are needed to further examine if there is a link between obese parents and their offspring’s developmental skills, Yeung said.

The report was published online Jan. 2 in the journal Pediatrics.

Story Source: Steven Reinberg, http://www.webmd.com/children/news/20170103/can-parents-weight-hinder-toddlers-development#1

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