Prenatal stress may affect children's health
An Aarhus study links severe anxiety during pregnancy to adulthood obesity
High levels of stress during pregnancy may put the unborn child at an increased risk of obesity during adulthood, according to researchers from Aarhus University.
"Overall our results indicate that stress can create a programming of the unborn child that makes it susceptible to putting on weight after birth," explained Lena Hohwü from the Department of Public Health at Aarhus University in a press 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 is overweight, and in which most of them will remain overweight as adults."
Severe risk from severe stress
As an indicator of severe stress, the researchers focused on women who had experienced the death of a close relative immediately before or during the pregnancy and then followed their male children until early adulthood.
Though the risk of obesity was mediated by the children’s relationship with their mother, the sons of women who had lost their husband around the time of pregnancy were twice as likely to develop obesity.
Further investigations will take into account more frequent and less severe stress conditions such as divorce.
Previous studies had linked the weight problems of 10 to 13-year-old children to severe stress experienced by their mothers during pregnancy. The new correlation suggests that the risk of obesity might extend into adulthood.