Obesity in Pregnancy Causing Rise in Autism Cases

Pregnancyorg Staff's picture

by Cassandra R. Elias

In the News: Do Obese Pregnant Mothers Increase Risk of Autism in Children?

Obesity Causing Rise in Autism CasesA recent study in the journal of Pediatrics looked into whether moms who are obese or have diabetes are more likely to have a child with autism or another developmental problem.

It's no surprise that with diabetes and obesity on the rise in the United States, this is a growing concern. The researchers strongly believe they have even more evidence to show that obesity and pregnancy just don't mix.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, one of the study's authors from the MIND Institute at the University of California Davis says, "It's worrisome in light of this rather striking epidemic of obesity."

In spite of the study, the authors are still not clear whether there is an absolute connection between rising obesity rates, and the alarming number of children being diagnosed with autism.

The recent study looked at a pool of about 1000 mothers. Half had a child with autism, and the other have a developmental delay, not related to autism. The point of the study was to find out if autism would occur more often if the woman was obese, diabetic or had high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Even though the overall risk for autism occurring was still relatively small, Hertz-Picciotto stated that, "We found that if women had one of these three conditions, the increased risk for her child was about 60 percent."

The study found that a woman who had one or more of these complications doubled the chance that there could be the possibility of some other developmental delay besides autism. The most common risk factor continued to be obesity – affecting more than 20 percent of the mothers with an autistic child. Obesity continues to be one of the culprits for gestational diabetes as well as high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

Hertz-Picciotto continued to state that, "Obesity really affects the mother's physiology aside from the fact that she's carrying around a lot of extra weight."

One conclusion the researchers found was that the results suggest that obesity and diabetes are affecting early brain development. It is appearing to reduce the nutrients reaching the fetus by reducing the body's ability to use insulin.

"We're talking about a fetal brain that could be suffering from a lack of oxygen," Hertz-Picciotto said.

According to government statistics, approximately one-third of women in the United States of childbearing age are obese and that one child in 88 now has an autism spectrum disorder.

Hertz-Picciotto did state that, "It's clearly a good idea for women who are overweight or obese to try to slim down before becoming pregnant and that people shouldn't assume that any particular child will develop autism because of his or her mother's weight.

Medical Reference:
Fountain C, Winter AS, Bearman PS. Six Developmental Trajectories Characterize Children With Autism. Pediatrics. 2012 Apr 2. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 22473372.