New Study Shows Possible Link Between Parental Obesity and Autism
A new study from the Norweigan Institute of Public Health suggests that parental obesity can be a greater risk factor for autism among children than the previously suspected link of maternal obesity to autism. Dr. Pal Suren, the first researcher to study the paternal link, is quick to point out that his research is still only theory and more work will be needed before any commitment to causal realtionships are made.
A number of studies had been conducted prior to Dr. Suren's research that sought possible links between maternal obesity during pregnancy and the risk for developmental disorders in children.
One of the first studies to explore the link between obesity while pregnant and autistic children involved about 1,000 California children between the ages of 2 and 5. The results of the study were that women who were obese during pregnancy were 67% more likely to give birth to an autistic child than normal weight women. It was also determined that obese women had double the risk of giving birth to children with other developmental challanges.
On average, women have a one in 88 chance of giving birth to an autistic child, but the California research suggested that the odds increased to one in 53 if the woman was obese.
When the study results were published, researchers made a point of stating that the study did not indicate cause and effect and that additonal research would be needed to confirm their results.
Another Look and Different Results
Using data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort study, Norwegian researchers reviewed questionnaire data from more than 90,000 Norweigian children at ages 3, 5 and 7. Mothers answered questions about their physical and mental heath, as well as questions about their children. Fathers answered questions about their physical and mental health during the time their wives were pregnant. By the end of the follow-up, the children were between the ages of 4 and 13. The results were surprising.
Four hundred and nineteen, or 0.45 percent, of the children in the study had an autism spectrum diagnosis. This is actually lower than the general population, but it should be noted that it is difficult to diagnose the illness among the youngest children.
Twenty-two percent of the mothers in the study were overweight, as were 43 percent of the fathers. Ten percent of both mothers and fathers were obese.
Researchers found that maternal obesity had little to do with autism in their children. An additional surprise was the risk for developing autism or Asperger's syndrome doubled if the father of the child was obese.
Researchers concluded that too much attention was being given to the mothers and not enough to the fathers. They further believe there may be a genetic link between obesity in the father and the development of autism spectrum diagnosis in a child.
Researchers emphasized the need for additional research exploring these connections.
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