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Linking Maternal Diabetes and Obesity to Increasing the Likelihood of Having a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Pregnant Woman A recent publication from researchers at the UC Davis EPA/NIEHS Children’s Center in the journal Pediatrics found strong links between maternal diabetes and obesity, and the likelihood of having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental disorders. ¬†Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by impairments in social interaction, communication deficits and repetitive behaviors and often is accompanied by intellectual disability. An estimated 1 in 88 children born today will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to statistics recently released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers investigated the relationships between maternal metabolic conditions and the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, and found that mothers who were obese were 67 percent more likely to have a child with ASD than normal-weight mothers without diabetes or hypertension, and were more than twice as likely to have a child with another developmental disorder.

"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. Our finding that these maternal conditions may be linked with neurodevelopmental problems in children raises concerns and therefore may have serious public-health implications," said Paula Krakowiak, a PhD Candidate in Epidemiology affiliated with the MIND Institute. "And while the study does not conclude that diabetes and obesity cause ASD and developmental delays, it suggests that fetal exposure to elevated glucose and maternal inflammation levels adversely affect fetal development."

Over 60 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age are overweight; 34 percent are obese; and 16 percent have metabolic syndrome. Nearly 9 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age are diabetic, and more than 1 percent of U.S. pregnancies were complicated by chronic hypertension. In California, where the study was conducted, 1.3 percent of women had type 2 diabetes, and 7.4 percent had gestational diabetes.

The study included 1,004 mother/child pairs from diverse backgrounds enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment Study (CHARGE), most of them living in Northern California, with a small subset living in Los Angeles. The children were between 24 and 60 months old, born in California and resided with at least one biological parent who spoke either English or Spanish. There were 517 children who had ASD; 172 who had other developmental disorders but not ASD; and 315 who were developing typically. The participants were enrolled between January 2003 and June 2010.

The study was supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program (R829388 and R833292), the National Institutes of Environmental Health (P01 ES11269 and R01 ES015359), and the UC Davis MIND Institute.

For more information:

Press Release from UC Davis
Maternal obesity, diabetes associated with autism, other developmental disorders exit EPA

News Story on ScienceDaily
Maternal Obesity, Diabetes Associated with Autism, Other Developmental Disorders exit EPA

News story on "Shots," NPR's health blog
Study Warns Of Autism Risk For Children Of Obese Mothers exit EPA

Publication in Pediatrics
Krakowiak P, Walker CK, Bremer AA, Baker AS, Ozonoff S, Hansen RL,Hertz-Picciotto I. Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Pediatrics. 2012 Apr 9. [Epub ahead of print] DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2583 exit EPA
Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders (PDF) (10 pp, 780 K) exit EPA

Centers Funded By:
Centers Funded by Epa and NIEHS

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