Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences

Committee Chair(s)

Ronald G. Munger


Ronald G. Munger


Christopher Corcoran


Korry Hintze


Heidi Wengreen


Michael Lefevre


Orofacial clefts (OFCs) are birth defects characterized by immediately recognizable disruption of normal facial structure caused by abnormal facial development during the first six to eight weeks of gestation, causing a cleft in the lip or the palate. OFCs are among the most common structural birth defects and a public health problem. Some studies have found that maternal obesity, diabetes, hypertension, or the underlying metabolic abnormalities known as the metabolic syndrome, might be associated with the risk of OFCs, though other studies have been inconsistent. Data of mothers who have had children with OFCs were compared to those of children without OFCs to assess the association between maternal obesity, diabetes or gestational diabetes, or hypertension and the risk of OFCs.

Results of studies conducted in this dissertation indicated an increased risk of OFCs when abnormal maternal weight is present. Both maternal obesity and underweight were found to be associated with increased risk of having children with orofacial clefts. This effect however was only present among mothers with lower maternal education levels. Maternal diabetes mellitus and gestational diabetes increased the risk for having a child with OFC birth defects, as well as maternal hypertension. When maternal diabetes or hypertension was combined with obesity or underweight, the risk of OFC increased compared to normal weight mothers.

With the increased prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension and the association of these syndromes with OFCs, it is recommended that mothers planning to become pregnant to follow healthy habits, maintain healthy weight, and be screened for possible diabetes or hypertension prior to conception and early in pregnancy.



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