Mom’s Obesity, Diabetes Linked with Autism and Developmental Delays


New research from the University of California, Davis, finds that a woman’s weight and health during pregnancy may have significant influences on her child’s development.

April is National Autism Awareness Month, and it’s been marked by a steady stream of research about the causes of the disorder — including complex genetic factors and the risk from older fathers — and its characteristics, such as the finding that it now affects 1 in 88 children, but that 10% of affected children may outgrow their diagnosis by the time they hit their teens.

Now another study is raising a particularly intriguing theory, given the expanding girth of the U.S. population: that mothers who are obese or have diabetes during pregnancy — these conditions can often go hand in hand — see higher rates of autism in their children.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, looked at 1,004 children aged 2 to 5 years enrolled in the CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) study from 2003 to 2010. The study included 517 children with autism spectrum disorders, 172 with other developmental disorders, and 315 who were typically developing.

Obese mothers were 67% more likely than mothers of normal weight and with no metabolic disorders to have a child with autism, and they were more than twice as likely to have a child with another developmental disorder — a delay in speech delay, perhaps, or a failure to reach developmental milestones at the appropriate age, according to the study published Monday in Pediatrics.

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