Photograph by Gent Shkullaku/AFP/Getty Images.
Following news that an increasing number of children are diagnosed with autism, a new study suggests that the increase might have something to do with the obesity epidemic.
Currently, autism-spectrum disorders are believed to affect about one in 88 U.S. children. But a study of more than 1,000 children aged 2 to 5 with and without autism suggests that mothers who are obese before pregnancy risk a 1 in 53 chance of having an autistic child. That's a 67 percent increase from the norm, the Associated Press reports.
The researchers from the University of California-Davis and Vanderbilt University suggest that in general, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic conditions in the mother may present a heightened risk for developmental disorders for the child, the Wall Street Journal explains. There's been a previous research link between obesity and still births, preterm births and birth defects, so the results may not be entirely surprising.
Irva Hertz-Picciotto, senior author of the study, cautioned against finding fault in the mother based on the results of their study: "no one factor is going to be responsible for any one child's case. This is not a 'blame the mom' thing," she told the Journal.
The study doesn't explain why the link might exist, but researchers have offered a couple theories, including the possibility that improper insulin production and use in the mother's body might affect the transportation of blood sugar to the fetus, harming its brain development.
A number of factors, including genetics and environmental conditions, have been linked to autism, though research indicates that the risk period for the disorder is in the womb. As the Journal notes, results published this summer from the same sample of children as Monday's study indicated that parents living close to a freeway during the last trimester of pregnancy doubled their risk of autism.