Women who are obese or have Type 2 or gestational diabetes when they are pregnant are more likely to have children with development disorders compared to “normal” weight mothers, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.
The researchers could not say that having a maternal metabolic condition such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes or hypertension causes any development disorders, but the link between them was strong enough for researchers to sound a note of caution.
“Over a third of U.S. women in their childbearing years are obese and nearly one-tenth have gestational or Type 2 diabetes during pregnancy. Our finding that these maternal conditions may be linked with neurodevelopmental problems in children raises concerns and therefore may have serious public health implications,” Paula Krakowiak, a biostatistician affiliated with the University of California, Davis MIND Institute, said in a release.
Researchers examined just over 1,000 mothers and their children from California already enrolled in a study examining the roots of childhood autism. Of those children, 517 had autism, 172 had other developmental disorders and 315 were developing normally.
Mothers who were obese were 1.6 times more likely to have a child with autism than were normal weight mothers, who didn’t have diabetes or high blood pressure. Obese mothers were also twice as likely to have a child with another development disorder, such as mild deficits in problem solving, language comprehension and production, motor skills and socialization.
As well, women with diabetes were 2.3 times more likely to have a child with developmental delays compared to healthy mothers. And while diabetic mothers were only slightly more likely to have children with autism than healthy mothers, the autistic children of diabetic mothers were found to have greater developmental delays than autistic children from healthy mothers.
Researchers are still examining the causes behind their results, but their working theory is based on the fact that both obesity and diabetes are characterized by increased insulin resistance and chronic inflammation. Prolonged exposure to higher levels of maternal glucose can result in chronic fetal exposure to high levels of insulin , which could reduce the amount of oxygen supply to the fetus and affect brain development since high levels of insulin production requires more oxygen use.
“The sequence of events related to poorly regulated maternal glucose levels is one potential biological mechanism that may play a role in adverse fetal development in the presence of maternal metabolic conditions,” the researchers said.
Given the results of this study, should obstetricians put more pressure on their patients to watch their weight during pregnancy?