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Health & Pregnancy

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Grief in Pregnancy May Trigger Obesity in Adulthood

Extreme stress even before conception can affect unborn child's weight, study suggests


If the woman had lost her husband, her son had double the risk of becoming overweight or obese in adulthood, the findings showed.

The researchers found no association between adult overweight or obesity and any stress a mother experienced following the birth of her child.

This latest study, published online recently in the journal PLoS ONE, adds to a growing stack of evidence that stress before and during pregnancy can have a long-term impact on the child's health in adulthood, said Dr. Youfa Wang, chair of epidemiology at the School of Public Health and Health Professions at the University at Buffalo in New York.

"If mothers are under psychological or physical stress, that may impact the interchange of nutrients and biochemicals between the mother and the fetus," Wang said.

This interplay can affect the development and future function of the baby's organs. "For example, some organs may become more efficient. Later on, when those babies grow up as adults, those physical changes will put them at some risk of certain diseases," he said.

However, it's difficult to say how intense the stress must be to have an effect on a developing fetus, Obel said.

"We do not know if more moderate levels of stress as well as indicators of physiological stress may have a similar effect, but we are currently testing this out," he said.

Also, experts point out that this research doesn't prove that grief during pregnancy predisposes an unborn child to obesity. Many other factors may come into play.

In the meantime, women who are pregnant or attempting pregnancy should do their best to limit stress in their lives, Wang said.

"They need to be aware that during pregnancy, there are many long-term consequences for their children," he said. "When these children are born, as adults they may need to be more mindful of how to protect themselves and reduce their risk for certain chronic diseases."

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