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Attn Parents: If You're Obese, Your Child Could Be At Risk For Developmental Delays

Pictured is a person holding their pregnant belly.
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An Indiana bill could extend Medicaid coverage for up to 12 months after pregnancy.

Do obese parents negatively affect the health of their children? A new study out Tuesday from the National Institutes of Health says that's likely the case.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, took data from more than 5,000 mothers and babies, and tracked the weight of the mothers' partners. In addition to weight, researchers measured children's motor skills, including whether they could hold up their head and whether they could grasp a parent's finger.

Children were tested at 4 months of age and retested 6 more times through age 3. When they enrolled, mothers also provided information on their health and weight — before and after pregnancy — and the weight of their partners.

Key findings:

  • Compared to children of so-called "normal" weight mothers, children of obese mothers were almost twice as likely to fail a motor skill test by the age of three.
  • Children of obese fathers were also almost twice as likely to fail a social skills test.
  • Kids with two obese parents were almost three times more likely to fail a problem solving test by age 3.

Edwina Yeung, a researcher with the NIH, said more research needs to be done before the findings would have an impact in the real world. That could include targeted programs to help kids of obese parents develop those skills.

Yeung started out researching diabetes and obesity in adults, but eventually found that the roots of health problems later in life start young.

“We all know it’s difficult to lose weight and maintain weight loss for many people," she said. "I came to realize the trajectory toward that begins much earlier. I wanted to understand the earlier risk factors.”

Yeung said epigenetics could be a cause for the reduced social skills. All DNA is alike, but it’s epigenetics that determines what portions are highlighted. She said there could be a link between the fathers genes and how DNA is turned on in the brain that would affect social skills and problem solving.

Yeung said that while the study doesn’t prove anything just yet, she will continue to work with study participants and hopes that others will use the results to do other research.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.