Background: Perinatal stress may programme overweight and obesity. We examined whether maternal pre- and post-natal bereavement was associated with overweight and obesity in young men.
Methods: A cohort study was conducted including 119,908 men born from 1976 to 1993 and examined for military service between 2006 and 2011. Among them, 4,813 conscripts were born to mothers bereaved by death of a close relative from 12 months preconception to birth of the child (exposed group). Median body mass index (BMI) and prevalence of overweight and obesity were estimated. Odds ratio of overweight (BMI≥25 kg/m2) and obesity (BMI≥30 kg/m2) were estimated by logistic regression analysis adjusted for maternal educational level.
Results: Median BMI was similar in the exposed and the unexposed group but the prevalence of overweight (33.3% versus 30.4%, p = 0.02) and obesity (9.8% versus 8.5%, p = 0.06) was higher in the exposed group. Conscripts exposed 6 to 0 months before conception and during pregnancy had a higher risk of overweight (odds ratio 1.15, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.03; 1.27 and odds ratio 1.13, 95% CI: 1.03; 1.25, respectively). Conscripts born to mothers who experienced death of the child's biological father before child birth had a two-fold risk of obesity (odds ratio 2.00, 95% CI: 0.93; 4.31). There was no elevated risk in those who experienced maternal bereavement postnatally.
Conclusion: Maternal bereavement during the prenatal period was associated with increased risk of overweight or obesity in a group of young male conscripts, and this may possibly be reflected to severe stress exposure early in life. However, not all associations were clear, and further studies are warranted.