A new obesity study finds a link with autism and women with diabetes or hypertension were also more likely to have children with developmental delays. Pregnant women might now have one more good reason to watch their diet and exercise.
The findings, published in Monday’s edition of the journal Pediatrics, found that women who had diabetes or hypertension or were obese were 1.61 times as likely as healthy women to have children with autism spectrum disorders. They also were 2.35 times as likely to have children with developmental delays.
Researchers affiliated with the UC Davis MIND Institute looked at their mothers’ medical records and examined mothers who were overweight and children with autism. Women who were obese during pregnancy were about 67 percent more likely than normal-weight women to have autistic children, the study showed.
Researchers say the study does not indicate cause and effect – and further research must be done to confirm the results. But the authors theorize that obesity – generally about 35 pounds overweight – is linked with inflammation and sometimes elevated levels of blood sugar. Excess blood sugar and inflammation-related substances in a mother’s blood may reach the fetus and damage the developing brain, study author Paula Krakowiak, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Davis, said.
On average, women face a 1 in 88 chance of having a child with autism, according to recent CDC figures. The new research suggests that obesity during pregnancy would increase that to a 1 in 53 chance, the authors said.
“Over a third of U.S. women in their childbearing years are obese and nearly one-tenth have gestational or type 2 diabetes during pregnancy,” Krakowiak said in a written statement. “Our finding that these maternal conditions may be linked with neurodevelopmental problems in children raises concerns and therefore may have serious public-health implications.”
Previous research has linked obesity during pregnancy with stillbirths, preterm births and some birth defects.