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Pregnancy Obesity May Be Linked to Autism In Children


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

Women, who suffer from excess weight or have Type 2 or gestational diabetes during pregnancy, are at an increased risk of having a child with developmental disorders such as autism, found a new research into the sobering risks of obesity in pregnancy.

The new findings provide evidence that obesity and diabetes during pregnancy may pose an increased risk for ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and other neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood. Scientists from the University of California, Davis, revealed that obese mothers were 67 per cent more likely to give birth to an autistic child when compared to moms with normal weight, while women with Type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes were more than twice as likely to deliver a developmentally delayed baby.

For their study, the experts analyzed data from more than 1000 kids aged between 2 and 5 years. All the children were California born and enrolled in the CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) Study from 2003 to 2010. Out of all the kids in the research there were 517 children who had autism spectrum disorder, 172 children who had other types of neurodevelopmental disorders, and 315 kids in the control group who were developing normally. Researchers also collected information about the mothers, considering their age during pregnancy and labor, levels of education, health records and some other factors.

The results revealed that overall, excess weight, diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) were more prevalent among moms of children with autism or other developmental problems than mothers of kids in the control group. Nearly 22 per cent of the mothers of autistic children, and 24 per cent of the mothers of kids with other developmental problems, were obese, when compared to 14 per cent of women who had normally developing kids.

According to the researchers, too much extra weight increases a woman's risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy. Obesity (generally about 30-35 pounds overweight), is a cause of a number of problematic pregnancies and baby development. Obese women who want to become pregnant might remember that not only are they at a double risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy, but also are at a double risk of giving birth by C-section, double risk of suffering a miscarriage and double risk of delivering a baby with congenital abnormalities.

Scientists are still investigating and analyzing the causes behind their findings, but their working theory is based on the fact that excess weight has been associated with inflammation and, in some cases, with increased levels of blood sugar. Excess amounts of blood sugar and elevated levels of circulating inflammatory chemicals in a mother's blood may cross the placenta, reach the fetus and damage the developing brain.

In the United States, about 60 per cent of women of childbearing age, between 20 and 39 years, are overweight, and 30 per cent suffer from obesity. In Canada, nearly 30 per cent of women are overweight, and 23 per cent are obese, according to Statistics Canada. And obesity rates rapidly go up for young women aged between 25 and 34 years, nearly doubling the numbers in the past two decades. Meanwhile, the number of children with autism spectrum disorder increases as well. On average, there is 1 in 88 chances that a woman will have an autistic child, but the new findings suggest that obesity during pregnancy would increase these odds to a 1 in 53 chance.

The study, titled "Maternal metabolic conditions and risk for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders," is published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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