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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

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Study: Maternal Obesity Linked to Autism

Researchers found that obese women during pregnancy were 67 percent more likely to have autistic children.

Maternal obesity may increase chances of children with autism and other developmental disorders, new research suggests Monday.

The study, one of the first of its kind, involved 1,000 California children between the ages of 2 and 5. Researchers from the UC Davis MIND Institute found that those born with developmental issues were more likely to have mothers who were obese or diabetic.

Although it doesn't prove obesity causes autism, the authors believe that the results raise public health concerns due to the increasing levels of obesity in this country.

As part of the study, researchers asked the mothers about their health. More than half of the women provided medical records to confirm their conditions.

It was found that women who were obese during pregnancy were about 67 percent more likely to have autistic children compared to "healthy" women. Obese women were also more likely to have children with other developmental disorders as well.

It is estimated that 1 in 88 American children fall somewhere along the autism spectrum, but these results suggest that obesity during pregnancy would increase that to a 1 in 53 chance.

Previous research suggested a link between obesity and stillbirths, preterm births, and some birth defects.

More research is necessary to confirm the connection between obesity and autism, but researchers believe this would only be one in many contributing factors of autism.

The study also reveals that pregnant mothers with gestational diabetes had nearly 2 and 1/3 times the chance of giving birth to a child with developmental delays.

Researchers warn that this study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between obesity or diabetes and autism.

However, the authors speculate obesity, defined as 35 pounds overweight, is linked with inflammation and sometimes elevated levels of blood sugar, which could reach the fetus and damage the developing brain.

Although the study looked at obesity in mothers, it lacks information on blood tests during pregnancy, the mothers' diets and other habits such as certain medications that may have shaped fetal development, according to the CDC.

There were also no racial, ethnic, education or health insurance differences among mothers of children who were studied, the researchers said.

The study was helped paid for by The National Institutes of Health.

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