Obesity, Diabetes During Pregnancy Linked to ADHD in Children

Women with gestational diabetes and obesity during pregnancy are more likely to have children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a new study finds.

Research published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism examined data of 1,036 children born to women with gestational diabetes between 1991 and 2008, with a median follow-up of 17.7 years.

Gestational diabetes is diabetes diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy (gestation). The condition, which elevates glucose levels in the blood, can be controlled with a healthy diet, exercise, and medication. The blood sugars usually return to the usual level after giving birth.

Researchers found that almost one in eight (13%) of these children were diagnosed with ADHD. In comparison, children of women with gestational diabetes and obesity during pregnancy were twice as likely to have ADHD than those born to mothers without obesity.

“Our study found pregnant women with obesity and gestational diabetes had children with long-term mental health disorders such as ADHD,” said Verónica Perea, MD, Ph.D., of the Hospital Universitari Mutua Terrassa in Barcelona, Spain.

However, the researchers did not observe a higher risk of ADHD in children of women with gestational diabetes and obesity if the amount of weight these women gained during pregnancy was within the normal range.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the weight a woman should gain during pregnancy depends on her body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy. The recommended weight gain increases if a woman is pregnant with more than one baby.

For example, an underweight woman whose BMI is less than 18.5 should gain 28-40 pounds, while an overweight woman (BMI 25.0-29.9) should only gain 15-25 pounds. You can calculate your BMI and see the recommendations here.

The CDC data shows that six million children aged 3–17 years were diagnosed with ADHD in the US between 2016-2019. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. The rates of ADHD are also higher among Black non-Hispanic children and White non-Hispanic children.

Moreover, 6 in 10 children with ADHD have at least one other mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder. Among them are anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder, and Tourette syndrome.

Obesity during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects, such as heart defects and neural tube defects (NTDs). It is also associated with medically indicated preterm birth and a greater risk of stillbirth. In addition, too much body fat can make it difficult to see problems with the fetus during diagnostic tests.


Endocrine Society. Pregnant women with obesity and diabetes may be more likely to have a child with ADHD.

Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Role of Excessive Weight Gain During Gestation in the Risk of ADHD in Offspring of Women With Gestational Diabetes.

Mayo Clinic. Gestational diabetes.

CDC. Data and Statistics About ADHD.

CDC. Weight Gain During Pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obesity and Pregnancy.

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