Prenatal Stress may Increase Risk of Obesity in Children

First Posted: Jun 16, 2014 04:03 PM EDT

Previous studies have shown that an expectant mother's health can directly affect that of her future child's. Now, a recent study published in the journal PloS ONE shows that mothers who are exposed to high level stress conditions may deal with an increased risk of having children who deal with weight issues as they mature.

Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark found that severe stress experienced in pregnant women could cause weight issues for children between 10 and 13 years. However, they note that the correlation of these findings are relatively new.

"Overall our results indicate that stress can create a programming of the unborn child that makes it susceptible to putting on weight after birth," says PhD Lena Hohwu from the Department of Public Health at the university, according to a news release. "So even though we still have a lot of research to do in this area, we have added a little piece to our understanding of why we are experiencing an obesity epidemic, in which one in five children in Denmark are overweight-and where most of them will remain overweight as adults."

For the study, researchers examined data from 119,908 young men who were part of the Danish conscription examination between 2006 to 2011. As part of this, their body mass index or BMI was measured. Researchers focused on women who experienced the death of a close relative just before or during pregnancy. The male children were then followed into early adulthood. Young men whose mothers had been exposed to poor treatment were more likely to experience increased obesity rates than those who did not deal with a similar issue. In fact, findings showed that women who had lost a husband were twice as likely to have overweight adult children. 

"We have specifically investigated the stress factor that occurs when the child's mother loses a close relative just before or during pregnancy, that is, before the child is born. "we have designated this as 'an indicator of severe stress' that can double the risk of developing obesity in adulthood," Hohwu concluded. 

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