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Obese or Diabetic Moms Are More Likely to Have a Child with Autism

Update Date: Apr 13, 2012 01:46 AM EDT

Women who are obese or have diabetes during pregnancy are more likely to have a child with autism or developmental delays compared to healthy pregnant women of normal weight, according to a new study.

The study conducted by researchers affiliated with the UC Davis MIND Institute found that mothers who were obese were 1-2/3 times more likely to have a child with autism, and were more than twice as likely to have other developmental delays.

"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 biostatician affiliated with the MIND Institute.

Researchers also found that mothers with diabetes were 2.3 times more likely to give birth to a child with developmental delays, and while diabetic mothers were also slightly more likely to give birth to autistic children.  

Autism is characterized by impairments in social interaction, communication deficits and repetitive behaviors and often is accompanied by intellectual disability. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported last month that women have a one in 88 chance of having an autistic child, but the latest findings suggest that obesity during pregnancy would boost that to a 1 in 53 chance, according to the study authors.

In California, where the study was conducted, over 20 percent of the mothers of children with autism or other developmental disability were obese, compared with 14 percent of the mothers of normally developing children. And 1.3 percent of women had type 2 diabetes and 7.4 percent had gestational diabetes.

More than 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. 

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics. 

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