Obesity in Expecting Mothers May Interfere with Normal Brain Development of Infants

Obesity is the root cause of numerous health complications. According to a new study conducted at the NYU Langone Health, NYU School of Medicine, it was found that the obesity in pregnant women may result in hindering the development of the babies’ brains as early as the second trimester. The study was published online on Tuesday in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

The research team at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine investigated the potential link between the high body mass index (BMI). BMI is considered an indicator of obesity and in the study, it is presumed to cause changes in two brain areas, the prefrontal cortex and anterior insula. These regions of the brain play an integral part in decision-making and behaviour, with disruptions having previously been linked to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and overeating.

Source: IHME

The study recruited over 197 groups of metabolically active nerve cells in the Fetal brain. With the help of computational models, researchers divided the groups into 16 meaningful subgroups based on over 19,000 possible connections between the groups of neurons. It was found that the only two areas of the brain where their connections to each other were statistically strongly linked to the mother’s BMI.

“Our findings affirm that a mother’s obesity may play a role in fetal brain development, which might explain some of the cognitive and metabolic health concerns seen in children born to mothers with higher BMI,” says Moriah Thomason, PhD, the Barakett Associate Professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health.

Since the incidence and prevalence of obesity is getting higher day by day, not only in US, but also globally. Therefore, it  has become imperative to understand the underlying mechanism as well as the process through which the presumed condition may impact early brain development, says Thomason, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone. Previously, the possible link between the obesity and brain development had mostly looked at cognitive function in children after birth. However, the current investigation is believed to be the first to measure changes in fetal brain activity in the womb, and as early as six months into pregnancy. Study authors say that according to their speculations, this approach may eliminate the potential influence of breast feeding and other environmental factors occurring after birth and to examine the earliest origins of negative effects of maternal BMI on the developing child’s brain.

Source: Baptist Health South Florida

Therefore, to investigate further, the study recruited 109 women with BMIs ranging from 25 to 47. All the women were between six and nine months’ pregnant. The MRI imaging was used to measure Fetal brain activity and map patterns of communication between large numbers of brain cells clustered together in different regions of the brain. Lastly, the study did not study a direct link between the differences they found and ultimate cognitive and behavioural problems in children. Yet, the study only investigated the Fetal brain activity.

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