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Children With Obese Parents May Be At Risk Of Developmental Delays, Say NIH Researchers

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Obesity has been associated with a number of health conditions, but now researchers are also saying that effects can transcend generations, with parental obesity putting children at risk of developmental delays.

Earlier works focused on maternal pre- and post-pregnancy weights but this study, published in the journal Pediatrics by researchers from the NIH Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, is one of the few to include paternal information, suggesting that a father's weight can also significantly influence child development.

Specifically, children with obese fathers were likelier to fail in social competence measures, which indicate how well they can relate and relate to others.

Based on their findings, the researchers also saw that those with obese mothers were were likelier to fail tests for fine motor skills, or the ability control small muscle movement, such as in the hands and fingers, while children born to obese couples were likelier to fail tests aimed at assessing problem solving ability.

According to the study, previous research indicates that about one in every five pregnant women in the United States is overweight or obese.

Examining The Effects Of Parental Obesity

For the study, the researchers worked with data from the Upstate KIDS Study, which was originally designed to determine whether or not fertility treatments have an effect on child development between birth and 3 years. More than 5,000 women were enrolled about 4 months after giving birth in the New York State (excluding New York City) from 2008 to 2010. Parents also filled out the Ages and Stages Questionnaire after completing some activities with their children.

The researchers clarified that the questionnaire is not aimed at diagnosing specific disabilities. Rather, it is there as a screening tool, flagging potential problems so children can undergo further testing and receive definitive assessment.

Children part of the study were tested when they were 4 months old. Retests were carried out six more times until they were 3 years old.

Parental Obesity And Child Development Delays

Compared to children with mothers and fathers of normal weight, children with obese fathers were 75 percent likelier to fail personal-social domain tests while those of obese mothers were almost 70 percent likelier to fail fine motor skill tests by the time they hit age 3. By the same age, children whose mother and father were both obese were almost three times likelier to fail problem solving tests.

It is unclear how exactly parental obesity increases a child's risk for developmental delays but the researchers pointed out that animal studies have shown that obesity during pregnancy has a hand in promoting inflammation, which could have effects on fetal brain. In the case of fathers, obesity may play a role in how genes are expressed in the sperm.

Developmental delays can have different causes, but often the specific reason is unknown. Parents suspecting their child may be delayed should consult with a pediatric neurologist or developmental and behavioral pediatrician right away. Specialists working through the local school system may also be contacted for assistance. If a child is developmentally delayed, the earlier they receive a proper diagnosis, the sooner parents can take advantage of developmental services to aid their child's progress.

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