Added Salsberry, "It's not only for their child's sake. It's also important for the health of the mother. But it is important to understand that maternal obesity during pregnancy could have implications for their children as well."
Without actual measures of women's and fetuses' insulin levels, inflammation and blood sugar readings, scientists can't say for sure how prepregnancy obesity might affect the fetal brain. But previous studies have suggested that a mother's impaired metabolic processes affect the fetal brain cell growth and formation of synapses.
The researchers also noted that obesity doesn't automatically equate to unhealthy.
"There may be two obese moms that in fact have very different metabolic profiles. For the purposes of this study, her weight is a stand-in for biological data that we would like to have but don't," Salsberry said.
Socioeconomic data from the study supported previous findings that several post-birth conditions can have a positive association with higher children's test scores. These include a stimulating home environment with plenty of books, a safe play environment and frequent family meals; higher family income; and higher maternal education levels and cognitive function. Girls and first-born children also performed better on the math and reading tests than did boys and younger siblings.
With all these data combined, Tanda said, the study also reveals how health disparities can have long-lasting effects.
"Young females who grow up poor, who have less access to healthy foods resulting in diets that are of poorer quality, are at higher risk of having children with disadvantages and repeating this cycle," she said.
The researchers are continuing to examine additional influences on childhood cognition, including race, sex and age differences among mothers.
|Contact: Pamela Salsberry|
Ohio State University