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Boys born to obese mothers have worse motor skills, study says

By Adaku Onyenucheya
30 December 2019   |   12:55 am
Recent study suggests that boys born to obese mothers have worse motor skills and at the age of three and lower IQ at age seven because they are less likely to get the right nutrients while in the womb.

Recent study suggests that boys born to obese mothers have worse motor skills and at the age of three and lower IQ at age seven because they are less likely to get the right nutrients while in the womb.

Researchers UT Austin and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health studied 368 children’s intelligence from New York City, at two points – three and seven years of age and found a significant link with maternal obesity during pregnancy only in boys.

At age three, the researchers measured the children’s motor skills, which would include coordination, dexterity, movement and speed.Examples include throwing a ball or playing a musical instrument well – but it’s not clear how the researchers studied this.

Scientists, however, said obesity, which causes a number of changes in the body also impact on fetal development.They considered that hormone disruptions or mineral deficiency as a result of a mother’s obesity slows the child’s brain development down.

The study found that girls had higher scores compared to boys – an average of 102.3 compared with 97.2.Boys whose mothers were obese during pregnancy had a lower score by around eight points compared to boys whose mothers were a healthy weight.These findings were published first in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease in September 2019. Also, at age seven, the researchers measured the children’s full-scale IQ. The findings, which were published in the Journal BMC Pediatrics found that IQ ranges from 70 to 140, and the full-scale IQ incorporates verbal reasoning, working memory, processing speed and more.

Findings show that boys whose mothers were overweight or obese in pregnancy had scores of five or more points lower on full-scale IQ tests, compared to boys whose mothers had been at a normal weight. Co-author of the study Elizabeth Widen, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, said the study was not to shame mothers.

She said: ‘These findings aren’t meant to shame or scare anyone. We are just beginning to understand some of these interactions between mothers’ weight and the health of their babies.“What is striking is, even using different age-appropriate developmental assessments, we found these associations in both early and middle childhood, meaning these effects persist over time.”

The researchers, however, said it is only early research and the mechanisms behind the findings that are not clear. They said the effects of obesity on the body might also impact on the foetus, noting that people who are obese are more likely to suffer hormonal disruptions – such as high amounts of insulin – which may ‘adversely affect’ the placenta and therefore development during critical stagesThey added that the placenta may also be disturbed by inflammation and metabolic stress, which is more commonly seen in people with obesity, known to fuel metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Fetal brain development may also be linked to the diet specifically -it’s possible those who are obese have a high-fat diet, depriving the baby of vitamins and nutrients, the team said.

Meanwhile, previous research has found a baby’s cognition is linked to what the mother eats. For example, eating fatty acids found in fish such as salmon during pregnancy has been linked with higher IQ scores in children. But the mother’s in this study were not asked about what they ate, or whether they breastfed. There is a long-standing debate about whether breast milk boosts a baby’s intelligence, so this may have been important for the findings.

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