Does Parental Obesity Affect Early Childhood Development?

It is pretty common knowledge that the behavior of parents influence the behavior and choices of their children. A new study, though, appears to confirm that the excess weight that obese parents carry around might greatly contribute to the development of their children. According to a new study conducted by the United States National Institutes of Health published in the journal Pediatrics, both maternal and paternal obesity could be uniquely tied to early childhood development delays.

In this study, researchers analyzed data collected by a 2008-2010 project known as Upstate KIDS which surveyed New York State women roughly four months after giving birth. The survey tested the children of these mothers multiple times between the ages of four months and three years via the developing screening instrument called the Ages & Stages Questionnaire.

The 4,821-child study observed that children of obese mothers were 70 percent more likely to fail the development test’s fine motor skills section than did children of normal weight or underweight mothers. Furthermore, children of obese fathers were 75 percent more likely to fail the personal-social section of the test.

Finally, children who were born to obese couples were nearly three times more likely to fail the problem-solving section of the test.

According to lead study author Edwina Yeung, “Our study is one of the few that also includes information about fathers, and our results suggest that dad’s weight also has significant influence on child development.”

She adds, “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.”
The National Institute of Health’s division of intramural population health research investigator goes on to say, “When both parents were obese, it meant longer time to develop problem-solving skills.”
However, at least one pediatric neurologist (not involved with the research) is not convinced by the study; and Yeung has acknowledged that it would be best to get more data. She notes, “We used observational data, which doesn’t allow us to prove cause and effect, per se.”

Still, the research is important because the United States Centers for Disease Control an Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least one third of adults in the US are obese. Obesity is classified as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.