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Little weight gain in pregnancy lifts kid's chances for schizophrenia by 30%

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Parenting   Even in a wealthy, well-fed population...

Gaining too little weight during pregnancy may increase the odds that a child will develop schizophrenia later in life, Swedish researchers suggest.

Past research has shown that pregnant women in areas of famine are more likely to have children who suffer from mental disorders, including schizophrenia.

The new study found a 30 percent increased risk for schizophrenia in children of underweight women in an industrialized country.

"Even in a wealthy, well-fed population like Sweden, there are still mothers unable to meet the nutritional requirements for safe pregnancies," lead researcher Euan Mackay said.

Mackay is a research assistant at the Karolinska Institute's division of epidemiology of mental health in Stockholm.

Mackay cautioned that these findings cannot prove that women who don't gain enough weight during pregnancy are putting their child at risk for schizophrenia. The study only found that an association between these factors exists.

In addition, schizophrenia is rare, affecting only about 1 percent of the population, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

Obesity tends to be the more serious problem in high-income countries. But there's still a portion of the population that doesn't gain enough weight in pregnancy, Mackay said.

"This may occur due to existing medical conditions or societal pressure to maintain idealized body types during pregnancy," he explained.

Mental disorders, including schizophrenia and other related illnesses, can occur within families and are partly explained by genetics, he said.

"However, research has also shown that a person's environment at crucial stages of development can also play a large role in risk for these diseases," Mackay noted.

Previous research, however, on famines in the Netherlands during World War II and in China during the Great Leap Forward (1958-60) have shown that children whose mothers experienced starvation during pregnancy had a higher risk of developing schizophrenia later in life, Mackay pointed out.

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