Children Born to Obese Moms May Face Higher Autism Risk:
MONDAY, April 9 (HealthDay News) -- Children born to obese or
very overweight mothers are at higher risk of having autism or
developmental delays, new research suggests.
The study of more than 1,000 children found that the offspring
of obese mothers had a 67 percent higher risk of autism than the
children of normal-weight moms, and more than double the risk of
having developmental delays, such as language impairment.
"The odds of autism and other developmental delays were significantly higher in the children of moms who were obese versus those who weren't," said lead study author Paula Krakowiak, a biostatistician and doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis.
The research included more than 500 children aged 2 to 5 with
mild to severe autism, about 170 children with another type of
developmental disability, and 315 typically developing children,
all taking part in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the
Environment, conducted between 2003 and 2010.
Children were assessed by experts from the university's MIND
Institute to confirm their autism diagnosis, while mothers were
interviewed about various aspects of their health before and during
pregnancy. Information about weight came from either medical
records or mothers' recollections of their weight before and during
Obesity is defined as a body mass index of 30 and up. Body mass
index, or BMI, is a measure of body size based on height and
While diabetes was also associated with increased odds of
developmental delays in offspring, there wasn't a statistically
significant association between diabetes and autism.
The research is in the May issue of
Pediatics, published online April 9.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder in which children have
difficulties with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal
communication such as reading facial expressions and understanding
other social cues, and restricted interests and behaviors.
About one in 88 U.S. children has a so-called autism spectrum
disorder, which includes milder forms of the disorder, such as
Asperger syndrome, according to updated figures from the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in six U.S.
children has a developmental delay, such as a speech or language
impairment or other intellectual disabilities, the CDC says.
Considering that about one-third of the women of child-bearing
age in the United States are obese and almost 9 percent have
diabetes, the findings could have serious public-health
implications, said Krakowiak.
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral
pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical
Center of New York, said the findings "should not be ignored."
However, he noted that other genetic or environmental factors are
likely contributing to autism. Many parents of autistic children
are of normal weight, while many obese parents don't have autistic
"Although the results of this study suggest obesity is a risk factor for developmental problems in offspring, one cannot assume that developmental problems in the offspring are due to obesity, and many other factors may be involved or responsible," Adesman said.
Indeed, other research published last week identified several
spontaneous genetic mutations as the cause of a fraction of autism
cases. Parents' ages, especially fathers older than 35, were also
associated with autism in those recent studies, published online in
The reasons for the link between obesity and
autism/developmental delays are unknown, though some research
suggests that obesity unleashes inflammatory proteins, some of
which may be able to cross the placenta into the fetus. It's
possible the inflammatory proteins, known as cytokines, may harm a
fetus's developing brain, Krakowiak said.
She also noted that while the research found an association
between obesity and autism/developmental delays, it did not prove
that being obese causes autism or other brain problems in the
fetus. The link may be indirect.
"It may not be the obesity itself, but other things that lead to obesity, such as genetics, or lifestyle, or diet," Krakowiak said.
About 24 percent of moms who had a child with a developmental
delay were obese; 21.5 percent of moms who had a child with autism
were obese; and 14 percent of moms with a typically developing
child were obese.
Researchers noted that overweight mothers whose weight
approached obese -- a BMI of 28 or 29 -- had risk levels similar to
Mothers with a child with autism or a developmental delay were
also more likely to have hypertension during pregnancy, but the
association wasn't considered statistically significant.
Researchers noted the number of women with high blood pressure in
the study was small.
U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and
Stroke has more on autism.
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