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Obese Mothers Linked to Growth, Development of Child’s Brain

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

Obese mothers are more likely to have children with neurodevelopmental problems according to a review recently published in Obesity Reviews.

Ryan J. Van Lieshout, M.D., from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, and colleagues reviewed literature available until 2010 to examine the association between maternal overweight and obesity, weight gain during pregnancy, and neurodevelopmental outcomes in the offspring.

Neurodevelopmental problems are impairments of the growth and development of the brain or central nervous system. They can affect emotion, learning ability, and memory that shows up as the individual grows. Some consequences of neurodevelopmental disorders in children can be autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger syndrome, communication, speech and language disorders. Down Syndrome is also considered a neurodevelopmental disorder.

A total of 12 studies were included, which examined associations between obesity (measured by maternal body mass index [BMI] or weight gain) and cognitive, psychological, behavioral, emotional, or psychiatric outcomes measured in children older than 1 month.

The investigators found that eight studies provided evidence of a link between maternal obesity and overweight and cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems in offspring. Five of these studies clearly supported an association between maternal obesity and neurodevelopmental problems, while three provided mixed support of a link with childhood IQ, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder, negative emotionality, and schizophrenia. The remaining four studies did not support the association. Most of the studies that examined obesity found BMI to be a significant predictor of neurodevelopmental problems in offspring.

“These data suggest that the offspring of obese pregnancies may be at increased risk of cognitive problems and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in childhood, eating disorders in adolescence, and psychotic disorders in adulthood,” the authors write.

Mothers to-be often hear they are “eating for two.” You do need extra calories from nutrition-rich foods, but – if you are not trying to gain weight- then 200-300 extra calories more a day than before you became pregnant is all you need.

Gaining the right amount of weight during pregnancy by eating a healthy, balanced diet is a good sign that your baby is getting all the nutrients he or she needs and is growing at a healthy rate.

Talk to your OB/GYN about the proper weight gain for your unique body. There’s not a one size fits all diet program during pregnancy. offers these tips for good food choices during your pregnancy.

Be sure to eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you and your baby need. Here are some tips to slow your weight gain:

•       When eating out at a fast food restaurant, choose lower fat items such as broiled chicken breast sandwich with tomato and lettuce (no sauce or mayonnaise), side salad with low-fat dressing, plain bagels or a plain baked potato. Avoid fried foods such as French fries, mozzarella sticks, or breaded chicken patties.

•       Avoid whole milk products. You need at least four servings of milk products every day. However, using skim, 1%, or 2% milk will greatly reduce the amount of calories and fat you eat. Also choose low-fat or fat-free cheese or yogurt.

•       Limit sweet or sugary drinks. Sweetened drinks such as soft drinks, fruit punch, fruit drinks, iced tea, lemonade, or powdered drink mixes provide many calories with little nutrients. Choose water, club soda, or mineral water to avoid extra calories.

•       Do not add salt to foods when cooking. Salt causes your body to retain water.

•       Limit sweets and high calorie snacks. Cookies, candies, donuts, cakes, syrup, honey, and potato chips provide many calories with little nutrition. Try not to eat these types of foods every day. Instead, try fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt, angel food cake with strawberries, or pretzels as lower calorie snack and dessert choices.

•       Use fats in moderation. Fats include cooking oils, margarine, butter, gravy, sauces, mayonnaise, regular salad dressings, sauces, lard, sour cream, and cream cheese. Try the lower fat substitutes that are available for these foods.

•       Prepare meals using low-fat cooking methods. Frying foods in oil or butter will increase the calories and fat of that meal. Baking, broiling, grilling, or boiling are healthier, lower fat methods of cooking.

And don’t forget to get plenty of exercise. Walking and swimming are generally safe and can help burn too many extra calories as well as add endurance and strength.

Be sure to talk to your health care provider before starting an exercise program.

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