Being Overweight Increases Risk of Having Child Born With Cerebral Palsy

By Kristine Hartvigsen on March 15th, 2017

A study of 1.4 million children born in Sweden between 1997 and 2011 has concluded that being overweight or obese early in pregnancy increases a woman’s risk for having a child with cerebral palsy (CP).

Published March 7 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the study found that overweight women had a 22% higher rate, and obese women had more than 50% higher rate, of CP births. These data apply only to full-term births. “Overweight” was defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25-29.9, and “obese” was defined as having a BMI of 30 or higher. Approximately half of pregnant women in the United States attending their first prenatal appointment are categorized as overweight or obese.

The most common motor disability in childhood, cerebral palsy comprises a range of disorders linked to brain damage or abnormal brain development while the infant’s brain is still developing. Damage can occur before, during, or immediately after birth. The scientific community has agreed that only a very small percentage (10%) of CP cases arise from complications during birth.

CP occurs in approximately 1 in 323 U.S. births. It impacts a child’s ability to move and maintain balance, with severity that can fall anywhere between mild and severe. Symptoms may include stiff muscles, floppiness or rigidity, abnormal reflexes, involuntary movements, and poor balance and coordination that affects mobility. Some children with CP also have intellectual challenges or other medical disorders, such as blindness or deafness. Many have seizures that aren’t necessarily related to epilepsy. However, about 40% of CP children also have confirmed epilepsy.

Most children are diagnosed with CP by age 1 or 2, as developmental delays begin to be observed. Doctors may order a series of tests to evaluate motor skills. Lab tests and neuroimaging (cranial ultrasound, CT Scan, MRI, or electroencephalography) may be ordered to refine a diagnosis or rule out other conditions that could mimic CP. CP is permanent and irreversible, but it can be managed to maximize quality of life.

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. Any parent who suspects their child is not meeting developmental milestones and is concerned about CP should contact their healthcare provider and request an assessment.

This blog provides general information and discussion about healthcare-related subjects. The content and linked materials provided are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader is an expectant mother with a medical concern, she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or healthcare provider.

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