In Utero Exposure to Natural Disaster Ups Child Psychopathology

Exposure to Hurricane Sandy in utero linked to increased risk for depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/behavioral disorders

TUESDAY, Sept. 27, 2022 (HealthDay News) — In utero exposure to a major weather-related disaster is associated with an increased risk for psychopathology in children, according to a study published online Sept. 21 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Yoko Nomura, Ph.D., from CUNY Queens College in Flushing, New York, and colleagues evaluated 163 preschool children and their 151 parents annually at ages 2 to 5 years to examine the emergence of psychopathology using the Preschool Age Psychopathological Assessment. Of the children, 66 and 97 (40.5 and 59.5 percent) were exposed or not exposed, respectively, to Sandy Storm (SS) in utero.

The researchers found that exposure to SS in utero was associated with increases in depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and attention-deficit/disruptive behavioral disorders (hazard ratios, 16.9, 5.1, and 3.4, respectively). Elevated diagnostic rates were seen for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD), and separation-anxiety disorder (SAD; hazard ratios, 8.5, 5.5, 3.8, and 3.5, respectively). Increased risks for attention-deficit/disruptive behavioral disorders, including ADHD, conduct disorder, and ODD were seen for boys (hazard ratio, 7.8), while risks for anxiety disorders (hazard ratio, 10.0), phobia (hazard ratio, 2.8), and depressive disorders (hazard ratio, 30.0), including SAD, GAD, and dysthymia, were increased for girls.

“It is helpful for policy makers, obstetricians, and pediatricians to create an infrastructure to assist pregnant women and their families when confronting such a natural disaster, to mitigate risks to their children in utero, support healthy development after birth, and prevent psychiatric disorders,” the authors write.

One author disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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