Prenatal maternal cortisol, stress and anxiety, and childhood obesity at 5 years: a nested case-control study

J Reprod Infant Psychol. 2023 Nov 29:1-15. doi: 10.1080/02646838.2023.2288298. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: Paediatric obesity is a global public health issue. Prenatal maternal mental health is potentially implicated in the development of childhood obesity. This study examined associations between prenatal maternal cortisol, self-reported stress, anxiety and depression in the second trimester, and childhood overweight and obesity at 5 years of age.

Methods: A nested case-control study was conducted using data from the Irish prospective longitudinal birth cohort SCOPE BASELINE. Cases were children with overweight or obesity, operationalised as having a BMI z-score above +2 standard deviations. Controls were children with a BMI z-score between -0.5 and 0.5 standard deviations at 5 years of age. Two to one matching by sex was conducted. Thirty-eight cases and 83 sex-matched controls were included. Maternal serum cortisol concentration and self-reported stress, anxiety and depression were measured at 15 ± 1 and 20 ± 1 weeks gestation. Conditional logistic regression analyses were conducted to examine associations between prenatal maternal cortisol and self-reported stress, anxiety and depression, and childhood overweight and obesity.

Results: Despite some evidence for associations between anxiety and depression, and child BMI z-scores in univariate analyses, adjusted models indicated no associations between prenatal maternal stress (OR: 1.02, 95% CI: 0.94-1.12), anxiety (OR: 1.03, 95% CI: 0.97-1.09), depression (OR: 1.04, 95% CI: 0.91-1.19), or cortisol concentration (OR: 0.99, 95% CI: 0.99-1.00) and child BMI z-score.

Conclusion: Our findings do not provide support for associations between foetal exposure during the second trimester of pregnancy and maternal cortisol, stress and anxiety, and childhood overweight or obesity at 5 years of age.

Keywords: Childhood obesity; anxiety; cortisol; pregnancy; stress.