Prenatal unhealthy diet, insulin-like growth factor 2 gene (IGF2) methylation, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms in youth with early-onset conduct problems

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2017 Jan;58(1):19-27. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12589. Epub 2016 Aug 18.


Background: Conduct problems (CP) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are often comorbid and have each been linked to 'unhealthy diet'. Early-life diet also associates with DNA methylation of the insulin-like growth factor 2 gene (IGF2), involved in fetal and neural development. We investigated the degree to which prenatal high-fat and -sugar diet might relate to ADHD symptoms via IGF2 DNA methylation for early-onset persistent (EOP) versus low CP youth.

Methods: Participants were 164 youth with EOP (n = 83) versus low (n = 81) CP drawn from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. We assessed if the interrelationships between high-fat and -sugar diet (prenatal, postnatal), IGF2 methylation (birth and age 7, collected from blood), and ADHD symptoms (age 7-13) differed for EOP versus low CP youth.

Results: Prenatal 'unhealthy diet' was positively associated with IGF2 methylation at birth for both the EOP and low CP youth. For EOP only: (a) higher IGF2 methylation predicted ADHD symptoms; and (b) prenatal 'unhealthy diet' was associated with higher ADHD symptoms indirectly via higher IGF2 methylation.

Conclusions: Preventing 'unhealthy diet' in pregnancy might reduce the risk of ADHD symptoms in EOP youth via lower offspring IGF2 methylation.

Keywords: IGF2; Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children; DNA methylation; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; conduct problems; diet.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / etiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Conduct Disorder / etiology*
  • DNA Methylation
  • Diet, Carbohydrate Loading / adverse effects*
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects*
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor II / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / metabolism*


  • IGF2 protein, human
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor II