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A woman’s body weight before and during pregnancy can have profound health effects on both mother and child. Women with obesity are at greater risk for developing pregnancy complications that can impair infant neurodevelopment, such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm birth, and birth trauma. Findings from a new study suggest that maternal obesity contributes to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity in offspring.

ADHD is a neuro-behavioral condition characterized by inattention and/or hyperactive or impulsive behavior that interferes with functioning, learning, or development. Obesity is characterized as having excessive body fat – typically defined as having greater than 25 percent body fat for males and greater than 33 percent body fat for females.

The study included nearly 3,000 Finnish women and their offspring (~9,400 children). The authors of the study collected information about the children’s behavior and attention span from mothers and teachers. They gathered anthropometric data to determine the mothers' and children’s body mass index (BMI), a proxy for body fatness. They used Mendelian randomization and polygenic risk scores to assess risk for ADHD and/or obesity. Mendelian randomization is a research method that provides evidence of links between modifiable risk factors and disease based on genetic variants within a population. A polygenic risk score estimates a person’s genetic propensity for developing a trait or disease.

They found that children whose mothers had a high BMI were more likely to develop ADHD, independent of genetic makeup. The Mendelian randomization analysis identified a bidirectional link between developing ADHD and obesity-related traits, suggesting that certain genetic variations may predispose children to both ADHD and obesity concurrently. The polygenic risk score revealed evidence for genetic overlap between having ADHD and greater BMI.

These finding suggest that both genetic and prenatal environmental factors influence the likelihood that a woman’s child will develop ADHD and obesity. They also underscore the importance of maintaining a healthy maternal body weight before and during pregnancy.

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