Children born of obese or overweight mothers have a high risk of developing epilepsy.
A new study published in the current edition of JAMA Neurology Journal states that women with excess body weight in the early stages of pregnancy can predispose their children to the disease which has no cure.
According to the research, overweight mothers with a body mass index (BMI) of between 25 and 29 have an 11pc chance of giving birth to a child with epilepsy compared to women with normal weight. Somebody with a BMI of 25-29 would have to weigh between 56 and 65 kilos assuming a height of 1.5 metres or exactly five feet. For someone who is six feet or 1.8 metres tall, that weight would be 80 to 95 kilos.
But the risk jumps to 82 per cent among women with severe or grade ‘3’ obesity that usually have a BMI of more than 40. For someone who is 1.5 metres or five-feet tall they would have to weigh in excess of 90 kilos while someone who is 1.8 metres or six feet tall that would be weight in excess of 130 kilos.
For those with milder cases of obesity – grade ‘2’ and ‘3’ – the chances of their kids developing the disease is 20 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.
The authors state that a possible reason for this occurrence is due to the fact that excess weight during pregnancy increases the risk of brain injury to the unborn child which leads to a wide range of development disorders in later life.
This first of its kind study, involving over a million children in Sweden sheds light on the possible contributors to epilepsy whose cause is still poorly understood, thus making it hard for health practitioners to identify definitive factors leading to the development of the disease.
Previous research has linked the condition to low birth weight and breathing complications that affect babies during delivery. Strokes and brain tumours also cause the disease.
However, the condition can also result from infections such as meningitis, encephalitis, neurocysticercosis or birth defects affecting the brain.
Because maternal overweight and obesity cases are on the rise worldwide, the study notes that there is a growing concern over the effect of this excess weight on the unborn child.
But since these are also modifiable risk factors, the researchers state that prevention of obesity in women of reproductive age may be an important public health strategy to reduce the incidence of epilepsy.
Statistics from the current Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) show that 33 percent of women of child bearing age in Kenya are either overweight or obese.
Gladys Mugambi, Head of Nutrition and Dietetics Unit at the Ministry of Health (MOH) attributes this to sedentary lifestyles, lack of adequate physical activity and the high consumption of starchy foods that promote weight gain.
She notes that having a healthy weight is important, not only for successful pregnancies but also for the prevention of fatal non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
“Kenyans need to take weight issues seriously since prevention is always better than cure.”
Epilepsy is a life long illness characterised by unprovoked recurrent seizures that may involve the entire body or only a part of it. Sometimes, the involuntary jerky movements are accompanied by loss of consciousness and control of bowel or bladder functions among those affected.