Maternal pre-pregnancy obesity and risk for inattention and negative emotionality in children


  • Alina Rodriguez

    1. Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, Sweden
    2. Dept of Epidemiology and Public Health, Lifecourse Epidemiology, Imperial College, London, UK
    3. MRC Social Genetic Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London, UK
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  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Alina Rodriguez, Dept. of Psychology, Uppsala University, Box 1225, SE 751 42 Uppsala. Sweden; Email:


Objective:  This study aimed to replicate and extend previous work showing an association between maternal pre-pregnancy adiposity and risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in children.

Methods:  A Swedish population-based prospective pregnancy–offspring cohort was followed up when children were 5 years old (= 1,714). Mothers and kindergarten teachers rated children’s ADHD symptoms, presence and duration of problems, and emotionality. Dichotomized outcomes examined difficulties of clinical relevance (top 15% of the distribution). Analyses adjusted for pregnancy (maternal smoking, depressive symptoms, life events, education, age, family structure), birth outcomes (birth weight, gestational age, infant sex) and concurrent variables (family structure, maternal depressive symptoms, parental ADHD symptoms, and child overweight) in an attempt to rule out confounding.

Results:  Maternal pre-pregnancy overweight and obesity predicted high inattention symptom scores and obesity was associated with a two-fold increase in risk of difficulties with emotion intensity and emotion regulation according to teacher reports. Means of maternal ratings were unrelated to pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI). Presence and duration of problems were associated with both maternal over and underweight according to teachers.

Conclusions:  Despite discrepancies between maternal and teacher reports, these results provide further evidence that maternal pre-pregnancy overweight and obesity are associated with child inattention symptoms and extend previous work by establishing a link between obesity and emotional difficulties. Maternal adiposity at the time of conception may be instrumental in programming child mental health, as prenatal brain development depends on maternal energy supply. Possible mechanisms include disturbed maternal metabolic function. If maternal pre-pregnancy obesity is a causal risk factor, the potential for prevention is great.