Obese mums' children 60 per cent more likely to have mental health issues

·3 min read
Obese mothers may have children with a higher chance of suffering mental health issues. - Clara Molden/PA
Obese mothers may have children with a higher chance of suffering mental health issues. - Clara Molden/PA

Being obese is linked to a host of health issues for an individual, creating an increased chance of heart disease, diabetes and stroke among the many risks.

However, a new study has found that having a BMI of more than 35 while pregnant also increases the unborn baby’s chance of mental health issues, schizophrenia and drug addiction in later life.

The findings come on the back of a push from the Government to crack down on obesity in the UK.

The Telegraph revealed on Saturday that the Government was considering launching a rewards programme for families who adopt a healthier diet and increase their exercise levels.

"Loyalty points" will be issued that can be accumulated and traded in for certain discounts, free tickets or various other incentives.

The scheme is expected to be launched in early 2022 and will form the bedrock of the Prime Minister’s plan to tackle obesity.

The Prime Minister, pictured drinking a beer in 2016, is making plans to cut obesity a priority - Phil Noble/Reuters
The Prime Minister, pictured drinking a beer in 2016, is making plans to cut obesity a priority - Phil Noble/Reuters

In the latest study, published in Scientific Reports, scientists from Scotland and Helsinki analysed data from a long-running study in Aberdeen that tracks the long-term health of mothers and their children.

More than 68,000 mother-child dyads are involved in the study, which includes data on people born as long ago as 1950. Every child born at the Aberdeen Maternity Hospital since 1950 is included in the study.

The data showed that maternal weight during pregnancy had a significant impact on the long-term health of the foetus.

For example, children born to underweight mothers between 1950 and 1974 were 74 per cent more likely to have mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, as adults.

But for children born between 1975 and 1999, a link was found between maternal obesity and the health ramifications in adulthood for the babies they were carrying.

Of the 58,634 mothers in the study who had a child between 1975 and 1099, 1,553 (2.6 per cent) were severely obese, which means they had a BMI of more than 35.

The healthy range is between 18 and 25 and a 5ft 4in, 25-year-old woman would have to weigh 14 stone 9 pounds to have a BMI of 35.

The risk of mental health issues

Maternal severe obesity increased the risk of any mental health issues in later life by 60 per cent, pushed up the likelihood of the child having substance abuse problems by 91 per cent, and made the child 2.8 times more likely to have schizophrenia.

The overall prevalence of the conditions was low, with just 1.4 per cent, 0.5 per cent and 0.3 per cent of children in the study having mental health, drug abuse or schizophrenia problems in adulthood, respectively.

However, the researchers cautioned that while the absolute risk may be low, the relative risk compared to a mother of average weight, is much higher.

“Our findings... may carry important public health implications by underlining possible lifelong effects of maternal BMI on offspring psychopathology,” the researchers wrote.

“Our novel findings linking maternal severe obesity to offspring mental disorders also in adulthood are of particular concern given the rising prevalence of severe obesity among pregnant women.”

The study does not reveal what it is about an obese pregnant woman that increases the threat to her unborn child, but the authors speculate it is down to various physical stresses.

“Neurobiologically, inflammatory pathways and other mechanisms related to an individual's altered stress vulnerability because of maternal obesity or underweight may have contributed to our findings,'' the scientists say.

“Obesity in pregnancy is a highly proinflammatory state, and prenatal inflammation has been associated with psychopathology risk in the offspring."

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