Disaster-related prenatal maternal stress explains increasing amounts of variance in body composition through childhood and adolescence: Project Ice Storm

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Abstract

Background

The increasing prevalence of childhood obesity worldwide has become a public health issue. While many factors are involved in the development of obesity, stress during pregnancy has been linked to adiposity. However, research involving stressors that are independent of pregnant women's socioeconomic and psychological characteristics is rare. The present study made use of a natural disaster (1998 Quebec ice storm) to determine which aspect of the women's disaster experience (objective hardship, subjective stress, and/or cognitive appraisal) were associated with body mass index levels and/or waist to height ratio across childhood and adolescence.

Methods

Measure of objective hardship, subjective stress, and cognitive appraisal were obtained following the 1998 Quebec ice storm. We measured height, weight, and waist circumference in children at ages 5½, 8½, 11½, 13½, and 15½.

Results

Our results show that higher prenatal maternal stress was associated with higher body mass index levels and central adiposity in children of ages 5½, 8½, 13½, and 15½. The effects of prenatal maternal stress on anthropometric measurements tend to increase as the children grew older.

Discussion

The findings of this study highlight the long-lasting effect of prenatal stress on body composition, and are compatible with the current theory of fetal programming. Hopefully, our increased knowledge of the effects of prenatal stress on the fetus will lead to improved awareness and the creation of early intervention programs, ultimately improving women's and children's health in the future.

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