A study has found associations between fathers’ obesity and delays in their children’s development. Many studies have focused on mother’s obesity, and most find negative associations with child development, but very few have looked at fathers as well.

The study, which involved nearly 5,000 US children in the state of New York, found a correlation between paternal obesity and delays in personal-social functioning. This measure is part of the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), a validated screening instrument for identifying developmental delays in children, administered repeatedly between the ages of four months and three years. Personal-social functioning looks at a range of children’s abilities, such as cuddling toys and developing language skills.

The study found a different association with maternal obesity: delayed development of fine motor skills—for example, how the child handles small objects.

These associations are thought to be partly genetic and biological. The link between paternal obesity and child development, for example, may be due in part to obesity-related epigenetic changes in the parents (changes in how genes are expressed, rather than the genes themselves).

Up to 30% of US adults are obese, so the issue is widely significant. This study, like many others featured on the Child and Family Blog, emphasises the need for a family approach in understanding child development, rather than making the assumption that only maternal influences are significant.

References

Yeung EH, Sundaram R, Ghassabian A, Xie Y & Louis GB (2017), Parental obesity and early childhood development, Pediatrics 139.2