Exploring Links Between Prenatal Adversity and Adolescent Psychiatric Risk in a Canadian Population-Based Sample

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2021 Aug 1;42(6):457-462. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000916.


Objective: Adverse prenatal and postnatal exposures may have long-lasting effects on health and development. However, it remains unclear whether being exposed to a greater number of prenatal adversities affects mental health risk. The current study examined whether exposure to maternal health problems prenatally is associated with an increasing risk of psychiatric morbidity in adolescents.

Methods: Using data from the 2014 Ontario Child Health Study (OCHS), we examined associations between a count of 7 prenatal risk factors (maternal hypertension, diabetes mellitus, bleeding during pregnancy, influenza, urinary tract infection, thyroid disease, and depression/anxiety) and adolescent psychiatric morbidity. Adolescents (N = 2219) aged 12 to 17 years were assessed using the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview for Children and Adolescents.

Results: Exposure to each additional prenatal adversity was correlated with increased odds of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (odds ratio [OR] = 1.29, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.03-1.60), generalized anxiety disorder (OR = 1.27, 95% CI = 1.05-1.55), and social anxiety disorder (OR = 1.35, 95% CI = 1.01-1.80) after adjustment for confounding variables.

Conclusion: Exposure to prenatal adversity in the form of maternal health problems was correlated with an increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety disorders in adolescence. Future studies should further investigate the effects of antenatal environmental exposures on these associations to determine the potential value of close monitoring of those exposed to prenatal risks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / etiology
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / epidemiology
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales

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