Parental Obesity Affects Early Childhood Development Interview with:

Edwina Yeung, Ph.D Investigator in the Division of Intramural Population Health Research Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Developm

Dr. Edwina Yeung

Edwina Yeung, Ph.D
Investigator, Division of Intramural Population Health Research
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development What is the background for this study?

Response: About 1 in 5 pregnant women in the United States is obese. Other studies have looked at mothers’ obesity in terms of children’s development, but no U.S. studies have looked at whether there might be a contribution from the father’s weight. What are the main findings?

Response: One of the main findings of this study is that maternal obesity is associated with a delay in fine motor skill– the ability to control movement of small muscles, such as those in the fingers and hands. Paternal obesity is associated with a delay in personal-social skills including the way the child interacts with others. Having both a mother and a father with severe obesity (BMI≥35) was associated with a delay in problem solving ability. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Ours was an observational study and cannot prove cause and effect. Our study didn’t include any assessments of the children’s developmental status beyond age 3. At this point, we don’t know how their development will proceed, or whether they’ll outgrow the evidence of delay we saw in our assessments. For these reasons, our findings need to be confirmed in additional studies.

Until then, we can say that the health effects of obesity are well known. Anyone—male or female, contemplating parenthood, or not—should try to achieve a healthy body weight, through appropriate diet and lifestyle. People who are obese should speak to their physicians about how to attain a healthy weight. NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has Information on obesity, its causes, treatments, and preventions, at What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We hope to follow the children as they get older. We would also like to check for possible associations with the children’s weight and developmental status, to see if there are any other associations. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: If the link between parental obesity and developmental delays is confirmed, physicians may need to take parental weight into account when screening young children for delays and early interventional services. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Edwina H. Yeung, Rajeshwari Sundaram, Akhgar Ghassabian, Yunlong Xie, Germaine Buck Louis. Parental Obesity and Early Childhood Development. Pediatrics, Jan 2017 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-1459

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on January 6, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD