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Study suggests parental obesity could put babies at risk for developmental delays


One more thing for new parents to fret about? According to a new study from scientists at the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), offspring of obese parents could be at risk for developmental delays.

The study appears in the journal Pediatrics and examines the weight of both mothers and fathers and the behavior of kids up to age 3.

According to a release from NICHD on Tuesday, investigators found that children of obese mothers were nearly 70 percent more likely to fail fine-motor-skill tests, compared with those of “normal weight” moms. Children of obese dads were 75 percent more likely to fail measures of social competence. Meanwhile, kids born to two obese parents were almost three times more likely to fail tests of problem-solving ability.


The study is important because it also focuses on dads. The release quotes the study’s first author, Edwina Yeung, as noting that this study is one of the few that looks at fathers, suggesting that paternal weight influences child development, too. Yeung is an investigator in NICHD’s Division of Intramural Population Health Research.

“The previous US studies in this area have focused on the mothers’ pre- and post-pregnancy weight,” she said.

About 1 in 5 pregnant women in the United States is overweight or obese, the study notes.

Investigators analyzed data gleaned from the Upstate KIDS study, originally used to determine if fertility treatments could affect child development through age 3; the study enrolled more than 5,000 New York women.

Parents completed the Ages & Stages questionnaire after performing a series of activities with their kids; as the NICHD notes, the test isn’t used to diagnose specific abilities. Instead, it’s a screen for potential problems. Kids were tested at 4 months and subsequently tested six more times through age 3. Enrolled moms provided information on their weight before and after pregnancy; they also provided information on their partner’s weight.


Bear in mind, the link between parental obesity and developmental delays has not been confirmed. But if it is, “Physicians may need to take parental weight into account when screening young children for delays and early interventional services,” according to the study’s release.

In the meantime, maybe it’s time to honor that New Year’s resolution of getting to the gym.

Kara Baskin can be reached at kcbaskin@globe.com