Maternal Gestational Diabetes and Low Socioeconomic Status Increase Risk of ADHD in Children

Carolyn Drake

Children born to mothers who are of low socioeconomic status or have maternal gestational diabetes mellitus may be at increased risk of developing ADHD.

Children born to mothers who are of low socioeconomic status or have maternal gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) may be at increased risk of developing childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), researchers from Queens College and the New School in New York City have found.

The researchers compared children aged three to four born to an economically diverse sample of mothers with and without GDM. Potential participants, drawn from preschools near Queens College in the Flushing neighborhood, were tested using the ADHD Rating Scale-IV, and the researchers selected 212 to take part at a 2:1 ratio of "at risk" to "typically developing" children.

The researchers found that both maternal GDM and low socioeconomic status were associated with a roughly twofold increase in risk for developing ADHD by six years of age, but the increase in risk from GDM was larger among families at lower socioeconomic levels. A further investigation found that children exposed to both GDM and low socioeconomic status were 14 times more likely to develop ADHD.

In addition, the researchers found that children exposed to both GDM and low socioeconomic status exhibited compromised neurobehavioral functioning, including lower IQ, poorer language skills, and impoverished behavioral and emotional functioning.

“Long-term prevention efforts should be directed at mothers with GDM to avoid suboptimal neurobehavioral development and mitigate the risk for ADHD among their offspring,” the authors concluded in the study abstract.

GDM usually affects women in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Over the last 20 years, GDM has become more common, “particularly among ethnic minorities and individuals with low socioeconomic status,” the authors write in the study, according to a press release, noting that causes may include “lifestyle changes that heighten risk including greater consumption of saturated fats, sugar, and processed foods, and sedentary working environments.”

The study was published online earlier this week by Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.