Autism linked to obesity during pregnancy

April 9, 2012, 4:33 p.m.

A new study indicates that women who are obese during their pregnancy are nearly 70 percent more likely to have an autistic child. (Credit: Il-Young Ko/Flickr Creative Commons)

Add it to the list of negative health outcomes caused by obesity: A new study indicates that women who are obese when pregnant may have a higher risk of giving birth to a baby with autism.

The study, which appeared in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, found that a child's risk of being born with autism increased by nearly 70 percent when her or his mother was obese during her pregnancy, according to MSNBC.

The risk of having a baby with some other type of neurodevelopmental disorder also doubled, MSNBC reported.

Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. Its exact causes remain unknown, but genetics are a crucial factor. Children with autism tend to have difficulty with pretend play, social interactions, and all forms of communications.

With the proper therapy and treatment, many symptoms of autism can be improved, but some of those symptoms will remain with autistic people for the rest of their lives.

KPCC reported last month that the number of U.S kids with autism skyrocketed 78 percent since 2000.

Researchers for the Pediatrics study looked at medical histories for 315 normally developing children, 517 autistic children and 172 children with developmental disorders, according to MSNBC. What they found was that moms with diabetes were more than twice as likely to have a baby with a developmental disorder.

Diabetes is no stranger to the southside – numbers from the L.A. County Department of Public Health reveal that between 1997 and 2007, the rate of adults in the county with diabetes went up nearly three percent. Latinos and blacks, who account for 94.7 percent of South Los Angeles' population, both had diabetes rates at least twice that of whites, and socioeconomically speaking, 14.7 percent of those living below the poverty line in 2007 had diabetes.

The report also listed the diabetes rates for the county's planning areas for 1997, 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2007 – and every one of those years, South L.A.'s planning area had the highest rate of adult diabetes.

And with the present-day prevalence of obesity – by some estimates nearly two-thirds of the country is obese – and the health problems that can bring, the study's results are disconcerting for some doctors. Daniel Coury, the chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio, told MSNBC that the results "raise quite a concern" and that maybe it's not merely a coincidence that autism rates have increased with obesity rates.

The findings will require more research to confirm, but in the meantime, Paula Krakowiak, the lead author of the study, said the "safest message" is for obese moms to lose weight.

"It doesn't hurt anybody to lose weight and it comes with other benefits to the mom," she said to MSNBC. "So losing weight not only will help you, but it might also potentially help your child to be healthier."

Photo by Il-Young Ko via Flickr Creative Commons.

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