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Fathers’ Obesity Could be Tied to Autism Risk in Children

Update Date: Apr 08, 2014 10:06 AM EDT

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that is characterized by a lack of communication and social skills. In order to treat autism more effectively, researchers have been identifying several potential causes. In a new study, the research team found that children who are born to obese fathers tend to have a slightly higher risk of autism when compared to children with skinnier fathers.

For this study, the researchers analyzed roughly 93,000 children from Norway. The children were followed until they reached an average of seven-years-old. By then, 419 had an ASD and only 25 of them were born to obese fathers. They compared the children's fathers' weights and the incidence rate of autism. In the obese father group, about 0.3 percent of the children had autism whereas in the skinnier father group, the rate was just 0.14 percent. The majority of the autism cases did not seem to be related to having an obese father.

"So most of the autism cases were not related to paternal obesity," Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York, said. "Over 99.5 percent of kids born to obese men did not have autism. That's reassuring."

The researchers stated that even though their findings do not indicate a cause and effect relationship, they had several theories as to how a father's weight could affect his child's autism risk. First, lead researcher Dr. Pal Suren from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo explained that the relationship could be indirect. Gene variations could lead to increased risks of both obesity and autism. If genetics are not at play, Suren theorized that obese fathers might be exposed to certain environmental factors that skinnier fathers are not, which then heighten their children's risk of autism. One last theory is that the sperm coming from obese fathers directly affect autism risk.

"It would definitely be beneficial to replicate our analyses in population studies from other countries, to see whether the association is generalizable to other populations," Suren concluded according to Philly.

The study was published in Pediatrics.

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