According to a report Online First by Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, babies who are born to mothers with diabetes during their pregnancy and/or living in low income households, have a higher risk of subsequently developing ADHD during childhood.

The authors stated:

“Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) typically develops in the second and third trimesters and is defined as glucose intolerance with onset or first recognition during pregnancy. The prevalence of GDM has been rising for over 20 years, particularly among ethnic minorities and individuals with low socioeconomic status (SES), as have lifestyle changes that heighten risk including greater consumption of saturated fats, sugar, and processed foods, and sedentary working environments.”

Yoko Nomura, M.D., Ph.D, of Queens College, and team set out to determine whether there might be a connection between gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) and low income environments, with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They compared babies born to mothers with and without GDM and of all social classes.

According to an online communiqué issued by the journal:

“The researchers distributed the ADHD Rating Scale-IV to parents of 3- and 4-year-old children in preschools surrounding Queens College, and recruited 212 participant at a 2:1 ratio of “at risk” to “typically developing” children. At-risk children had at least six inattention or six hyperactive and impulsive symptoms as rate by parents, teachers, or both. “Typically developing” children had fewer than three symptoms in each domain. “

The overall score for children born to mothers with GDM was notably higher than for the other kids. However, the hyperactivity scores between the two groups of children were fairly similar. Children in low income families in comparison with high income ones had displayed signs of more inattention and hyperactivity. At the beginning of the study, findings showed no difference. However, by the time those who had been born to mothers with GDM were six years old, their chances of developing ADHD were double that of the other children.

The authors reported that children whose mothers had GDM and came from low income families..:

  • Tended to have lower IQs
  • Had more communication problems
  • Had more emotional difficulties
  • Had more behavioral problems

These children – born to GDM mothers, plus from poorer households – were14 times as likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than any of the other children, including those with just one factor, such as either having GDM mothers, or being from a poorer household.

The researchers concluded:

“This study demonstrates that children of mothers with GDM raised in lower SES households are at far greater risk for developing ADHD and showing signs of suboptimal neurocognitive and behavioral development. Since ADHD is a disorder with high heritability, efforts to prevent exposure to environmental risks through patient education may help to reduce the nongenetic modifiable risk for ADHD and other developmental problems.”

Joel Nigg, Ph.D., of Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, said:

“In the current issue of the Archives we see additional evidence, in a retrospective design, that early developmental events are related to subsequent attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

Most of the relevant environmental risks are presumed to occur very early in development,” continues Dr. Nigg. “If causal, and if able to be understood pathophysiologically, such environmental effects on ADHD are of ‘game-changing’ importance because they open the door to eventually preventing that portion of cases of ADHD caused by early insult to the nervous system.

If a specific environmental causal influence can be demonstrated, even if effective in a subset of children, and its biological mechanisms elucidated, then a powerful model will be created for how ADHD can develop,” Dr. Nigg concludes. “That discovery will be a crucial stepping-stone toward parsing multiple causal routes to what may be a final common pathway of the ADHD phenotype.”

Written by Christine Kearney