It has been suggested that prenatal stress contributes to the risk of obesity later in life. In a population–based cohort study, we examined whether prenatal stress related to maternal bereavement during pregnancy was associated with the risk of overweight in offspring during school age.
We followed 65,212 children born in Denmark from 1970–1989 who underwent health examinations from 7 to 13 years of age in public or private schools in Copenhagen. We identified 459 children as exposed to prenatal stress, defined by being born to mothers who were bereaved by death of a close family member from one year before pregnancy until birth of the child. We compared the prevalence of overweight between the exposed and the unexposed. Body mass index (BMI) values and prevalence of overweight were higher in the exposed children, but not significantly so until from 10 years of age and onwards, as compared with the unexposed children. For example, the adjusted odds ratio (OR) for overweight was 1.68 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.08–2.61) at 12 years of age and 1.63 (95% CI 1.00–2.61) at 13 years of age. The highest ORs were observed when the death occurred in the period from 6 to 0 month before pregnancy (OR 3.31, 95% CI 1.71–6.42 at age 12, and OR 2.31, 95% CI 1.08–4.97 at age 13).
Our results suggest that severe pre-pregnancy stress is associated with an increased risk of overweight in the offspring in later childhood.