Study: Obesity Increases Risk of Autistic Children

On April 9, 2012 the results of a study were published online in  Pediatrics, The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The study entitled “Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders” was conducted from 2003 to 2010. It looked at about 1000 children, of this number, 517 had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), 172 have been diagnosed with Developmental Delays (DD), and 315 were controls and had no developmental issues.

The children were aged 2-5 and had been born in California, spoke English or Spanish and lived with at least one biological parent. These children were all enrolled in the CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) study which is population based and case controlled.

What this study found was that there was a high risk of women who were obese or who had diabetes or high blood pressure, giving birth to a child that would have ASD or DD. According to the study, these women are 60 percent more likely to give birth to children with these disorders. Prior to this study it was a known fact that women who suffered from diabetes during pregnancy were more likely to have children who had general developmental issues but there had not been a direct connection established between diabetes and autism.

While this sounds like a shockingly high percentage, it is not the highest risk factor and it isn’t even particularly high when compared against breech birth which raises the risk by 63 percent. There has been an immediate and quite significant response to this study. Three new studies were released in Pediatric in the days following the printing of the study looking at other possible causes of autism.

According to Irva Hertz-Picciotto one of the authors of the study, the findings are worrisome in light of this rather striking epidemic of obesity in the United States. What is not clear and has not been proven is that the rise in obesity is connected to the rise in the number of children diagnosed with autism.

About 20 percent of mothers of children with autism suffer from obesity. When a woman is obese and pregnant, it also increases the risk that she may develop high blood pressure or diabetes. Hertz-Picciotto states “Obesity really affects the mother’s physiology aside from the fact that she’s carrying around a lot of extra weight.”

Obesity can cause issues with a developing fetus and there is a possibility that the infant will not receive enough nutrients especially if diabetes has reduced the amount of insulin the body is producing. The study showed that diabetes and obesity are affecting early brain development.

According to government statistics, 1 in 88 children is affected by autism or an ASD. Given the fact that about 33 percent of women of child bearing age are now considered to be obese, there is reason to be concerned that the number of autistic children diagnosed will continue to rise.

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