MONDAY, Jan. 2, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that the combination of poverty and having diabetes during pregnancy significantly raises the risk of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in a woman's offspring.
Children born to such moms are as much as 14 times more likely to have ADHD by the age of 6, the study found. ADHD is a behavioral disorder characterized by difficulty focusing, impulsive behaviors and hyperactivity.
A report on the finding appears in the January issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
The new study included 212 children. Of these, 115 had "low socioeconomic status" (lower-income) moms, moms with gestational diabetes (arising in pregnancy), or both. Ninety-seven children had neither. Researchers evaluated these children for the signs and symptoms of ADHD when they were aged 3 or 4, and again at age 6.
Moms who had either gestational diabetes or were poor were twice as likely to have children with ADHD, but the combination of these two risk factors was even more powerful.
Exactly how poverty and gestational diabetes affect risk for ADHD is not fully understood, but the finding suggests there may be an opportunity to intervene early in pregnancy to prevent ADHD. Women of lower socioeconomic status tend to eat less healthy foods, which can boost their risk for diabetes, noted study senior author Dr. Jeffrey M. Halperin, a distinguished professor of psychology at Queens College and a professorial lecturer in psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
His advice? "Get good obstetrical care, have your blood glucose levels monitored regularly, eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and sugar, and this will certainly decrease your child's risk for ADHD, as well as for other cognitive and behavioral problems."
What's more, "if a woman had gestational diabetes during one pregnancy, she is much more likely to have it in later pregnancies, so perhaps one can take preemptive steps to reduce this risk," he said.
The new study provides "one more piece of evidence that ADHD has multiple causes," said Dr. Jon A. Shaw, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "It is important to recognize early risk factors for ADHD because this gives us the chance to develop strategies to prevent it."
Dr. Joel Nigg, a professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and behavioral neuroscience at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, wrote an editorial accompanying the new finding. "Keeping your health in check during pregnancy may be important for your child's physical and mental health," he said. "The evidence is mounting, and this raises the incentive to get good prenatal care."
Learn more about gestational diabetes at the American Diabetes Association.