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Journal of Obesity
Volume 2015, Article ID 570541, 10 pages
Research Article

Prenatal Stress due to a Natural Disaster Predicts Adiposity in Childhood: The Iowa Flood Study

1Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Montreal, QC, Canada H2X 1Y4
2Douglas Hospital Research Centre, Montreal, QC, Canada H4H 1R3
3University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60607, USA
4University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA
5McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 0G4

Received 28 July 2014; Revised 27 November 2014; Accepted 11 December 2014

Academic Editor: Li Ming Wen

Copyright © 2015 Kelsey N. Dancause et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Prenatal stress can affect lifelong physical growth, including increased obesity risk. However, human studies remain limited. Natural disasters provide models of independent stressors unrelated to confounding maternal characteristics. We assessed degree of objective hardship and subjective distress in women pregnant during severe flooding. At ages 2.5 and 4 years we assessed body mass index (BMI), subscapular plus triceps skinfolds (SS + TR, an index of total adiposity), and SS : TR ratio (an index of central adiposity) in their children (). Hierarchical regressions controlled first for several potential confounds. Controlling for these, flood exposure during early gestation predicted greater BMI increase from age 2.5 to 4, as well as total adiposity at 2.5. Greater maternal hardship and distress due to the floods, as well as other nonflood life events during pregnancy, independently predicted greater increase in total adiposity between 2.5 and 4 years. These results support the hypothesis that prenatal stress increases adiposity beginning in childhood and suggest that early gestation is a sensitive period. Results further highlight the additive effects of maternal objective and subjective stress, life events, and depression, emphasizing the importance of continued studies on multiple, detailed measures of maternal mental health and experience in pregnancy and child growth.