ADHD News & Research

Study: Maternal Obesity May Increase Risk for ADHD in Offspring

What causes ADHD? Genetics and environment play a part, as do prenatal factors such as maternal obesity, according to a large new study that found women who were obese during pregnancy were twice as likely to report ADHD in their offspring.

February 25, 2020

Mothers who were obese during pregnancy were twice as likely to report ADHD symptoms or other behavioral issues in their children compared to women who began pregnancy with a clinically ‘normal’ body mass index (BMI) under 25, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.1 This association with ADHD was not found if the father was overweight.

Researchers analyzed the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Upstate KIDS Study, which included mothers of roughly 2,000 children who were studied from infancy through age 8. Maternal BMI was calculated using pre-pregnancy height and weight from records or self-report at four months postpartum. Mothers also reported whether their child had been diagnosed with ADHD or anxiety. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire was used to measure each child’s behavior at age seven and the Vanderbilt ADHD Diagnostic Parent Rating Scale was used at age 8.

Mothers who had a BMI of 25-30 (classified as ‘overweight’), 30-35 (classified as ‘obese’), or greater reported higher prevalence of ADHD in their children compared to mothers with a BMI of less than 25. Higher maternal pre-pregnancy BMI was associated with increased hyperactivity problems and inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive behavior.

According to the CDC2, 36.5% of American women aged 20 to 39 are obese; this number jumps to 44.7% in women aged 40 to 59. The prevalence of obesity shifts with both race and income, with Non-Hispanic black women and lower income women at the greatest risk for obesity. This new study does not attempt to de-tangle BMI from associated risk factors such as these.

The researchers suggest that, if these findings are confirmed by additional studies, children of obese mothers should be screened for ADHD at a young age so that they may receive important early interventions. Healthcare providers could also increase the use of evidence-based strategies to counsel young women on diet and lifestyle.

View Article Sources

1Robinson, Sonia L., et al. “Parental Weight Status and Offspring Behavioral Problems and Psychiatric Symptoms.” The Journal of Pediatrics (Feb. 2020).

2Adult Obesity Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2 Comments & Reviews

  1. I just want to comment that adults with ADHD who aren’t medicated have a 70% higher chance of being overweight or obese so I’d be careful to blame being overweight as a “cause” of ADHD. It is mainly a genetic disorder after all. Here’s the meta-analysis I’m citing. Cortese, S., Moreira-Maia, C. R., St. Fleur, D., Morcillo-Penalver, C., Rohde, L.A. & Faraone, S.V.
    (2016). Association between ADHD and obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Retrieved from

  2. Hi. I’m a longtime fat rights activist, author, speaker.

    Has anyone here considered the eugenics-y nature of this sort of advice? Have you bothered to look at the comprehensive data on weight-loss methods? (Quick hint: Nearly everyone can lose weight. Nearly everyone will gain it all back. Up to 2/3 of people will gain back more than they lost. People who repeatedly lose and regain weight tend to have more health problems and shorter lifespan. See Mann and Tomiyama’s meta-analysis for Medicare.) So the advice to lose weight before having children, really? It’s not a good look. It pretty much sounds like you’re telling fat people not to have children.

    Also, researchers need to be reminded that correlation does not and cannot prove causation.

    Readers who feel an urge to jump to blaming and shaming fat people who have children with ADHD need to stop. Just stop. It’s not helpful. You’re just indulging your urge to bully people. (Really, it’s never for our own good.)

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