Maternal Obesity and Risk of Autism to Offspring

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • Current research suggests that obesity, which is now classified as a disease, can also cause other diseases or at minimum put you at risk of a number of illnesses. Some of the recognized associated risks include:

    • Risk of hypertension
    • Risk of heart disease
    • Risk of osteoarthritis
    • Risk of certain cancers
    • Risk of diabetes
    • Risk of hypercholesterolemia

    We also know that when women become pregnant, excess weight already present at the time of conception, combined with the weight gained during the pregnancy, can heighten risk of mom developing gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and other dangerous health conditions. In terms of the growing fetus, mom's excess weight during the pregnancy has been shown to be a risk factor for birth defects including spina bifida, cleft lip, cleft palate, heart defects, hydrocephaly and even limb development issues.

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    Now a new study in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics suggests that moms who are obese or have diabetes during pregnancy, may have a higher risk of having a baby who has autism or developmental problems.  Other studies have looked at the age of mom and dad and risk of offspring developing autism too.  The obesity link is especially disturbing because experts have noted increasing rates of autism in the last decade. Some explanations have included environmental contaminants, while others believe we are just getting better at identifying children with the autism spectrum, and we are identifying these children at earlier ages. This new study suggested that if mom had obesity or diabetes during the pregnancy, then the risk of autism to her child was about 60%. These conditions also doubled the risk of the child having developmental delays, when compared to mothers who gained a more reasonable amount of weight during their pregnancy and were not diagnosed as "obese" and did not develop gestational diabetes (or have ongoing diabetes). In the study, 20% of the mothers with an autistic child were obese.


    The etiology of the risk seemed to be linked to obesity and diabetes instigating "an inflammatory process" in the developing tissues of the baby, especially the growing brain. A different theory was that obesity and diabetes in the mother somehow limited nutrients from reaching the growing baby. Clearly the take-away message is that if you are contemplating pregnancy, it might be worthwhile to try and lose excess weight before beginning the process of getting pregnant.

Published On: April 24, 2012