Maternal pre-pregnancy obesity and childhood physical and cognitive development of children: a systematic review

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

Maternal obesity, usually associated with the adverse birth outcomes, has been a serious public health concern. Studies examining its effect on the physical and cognitive development of children have only recently emerged and the findings are inconsistent. This review aimed to systematically examine the role of maternal obesity on children's physical and cognitive development using the available evidence.

METHODS:

The CINAHL, EMBASE, PSYCINFO, PUBMED and SCOPUS databases were searched. Studies addressing children's (≤12 years) physical and cognitive development as outcome and maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index as an exposure were included. Data were extracted and evaluated for quality by two independent reviewers.

RESULTS:

A total of 17 articles were eligible for this systematic review; 10 of them were birth cohorts from the USA. Nine of the 14 studies supported an adverse association between maternal pre-pregnancy obesity and childhood cognitive development. A few studies also demonstrated a negative association between the maternal obesity and gross motor function in children (5 of 10), but not with fine motor function (none out of five studies). Whether the observed negative association between the maternal obesity and children's cognitive and gross motor abilities is casual or due to residual confounding effects is unclear. The current evidence is based on a limited number of studies with heterogeneous measurement scales and obesity definition.

CONCLUSIONS:

From the available evidence, it seems that exposure to maternal pre-pregnancy obesity in the intrauterine environment has a detrimental effect on children's cognitive development. However, evidence of the association between the maternal obesity and physical development of children is too scarce to offer a conclusion. More research work is required to delineate the intrauterine effect of the maternal obesity from the residual confounding effects.

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