Don’t Get Crazy With The Mom Obesity-Autism Link -Yet

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I wasn’t going to write about this today, for the simple reason that mothers on the Spectrum don’t need another stigma attached to them; many, if not all, mothers at some point after receiving the Autism diagnosis for their child unfairly wrack their brains with hundreds of ‘what if’s” they could have done to prevent Autism.  This article does not help.  In my opinion, it also does not answer any new questions; simply piggy-backs onto the new CDC Autism numbers.  As the article states, “Although the study cannot prove that one condition causes the other, its authors, who published their results in the journal Pediatrics, caution that even the possibility is worrisome in light of rising U.S. obesity rates.”

Let me be clear here: I do not discount the recommendations this study makes; mothers should take all reasonable measures to be healthy and fit during their pregnancy due to the broad associations between maternal metabolic conditions and neurodevelopmental problems in children. 

My main discrepancy with this study is its study design: this was not a randomized trial.  This was a study in which the children were already enrolled in an Autism risk study.  What does this mean? This means the researchers already knew their population more likely than not would have an Autism diagnosis.  “Children aged 2 to 5 years (517 ASD, 172 DD, and 315 controls) were enrolled in the CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) study, a population-based, case-control investigation between January 2003 and June 2010. Eligible children were born in California, had parents who spoke English or Spanish, and were living with a biological parent in selected regions of California. Children’s diagnoses were confirmed by using standardized assessments.”  Let’s face it: a parent would not enroll in an Autism study unless their child a) is diagnosed with Autism, b) displays Autism-like traits or c) has a significant history of Autism/Developmental Delay in their family.  I also have a problem with using charged words like ‘obesity’ rather than addressing metabolic conditions as a whole in the reporting of these findings; my guess is that Diabetes or Hypertension do not have the same gravitas if you’re speaking to women.

I don’t refute this study; I am merely pointing out that the study design is convenient; a built-in population of Autistic kids being studied for every possible causal link.  It would have been a more balanced article if they highlighted this fact of the study: of the 1004 children in the study (517 with ASD), only 111 were born to obese mothers; that’s 11%, which is a correlation, but not a direct cause and effect one.- Ed.

Mom’s obesity tied to kids’ autism, development

An autistic child peers from between curtains at the Consulting Centre for Autism in Amman, March 30, 2010, one of the few places in the country that helps children with the condition. REUTERS/Ali Jarekji
By Andrew M. Seaman

NEW YORK | Mon Apr 9, 2012 8:12am EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A new study of mothers and children in California finds that kids born to obese women are more likely to be diagnosed with autism or related developmental delays than the children of slimmer moms.

The research, which was looking for effects on kids’ cognitive development from a variety of “metabolic conditions” in mom — including high blood pressure or diabetes — found the strongest links between obesity and autism-related disorders.

Researchers also found ties between the other maternal metabolic conditions and developmental delays in kids.

Although the study cannot prove that one condition causes the other, its authors, who published their results in the journal Pediatrics, caution that even the possibility is worrisome in light of rising U.S. obesity rates.

“If there is anything you can do to make yourself healthier, this is yet another reason for moms to consider,” said Paula Krakowiak, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, who led the study.

Krakowiak and her colleagues looked at 1004 children who were between two and five years old, born in California and already participating in a study underway at UC Davis.

Of those kids, 517 had an autism spectrum disorder and 172 had developmental delays. For Krakowiak’s study, the children’s diagnoses were confirmed by a reevaluation at the UC Davis MIND Institute.

Autism is attributed to atypical brain development and characterized by a group of symptoms that include problems with socialization, communication and behavior.

Milder versions of autism, such as Asperger’s syndrome and related conditions, form a “spectrum” of autism-related disorders. In addition, impairments in any one of the autism-related cognitive skill areas are considered developmental delays.

Among the kids in the study with an autism spectrum disorder, 48 were born to mothers with Type 2 or gestational diabetes, 111 to mothers who were obese and 148 to moms with any sort of metabolic condition, like high blood pressure.

For children with a developmental delay, 20 were born to mothers with Type 2 or gestational diabetes, 41 to mothers who were obese and 60 to moms with any sort of metabolic condition.

Overall, the connection between diabetes in a mother and her child being diagnosed with autism was not significant, but the researchers did find links between a mother being obese or having any other metabolic condition and her child having autism.

Developmental delays were associated with both obesity and diabetes, along with having any other metabolic condition.

“There is definitely an association present and it adds to the reasons for finding ways to lower obesity rates or diabetes rates and make greater efforts to change lifestyle factors,” said Krakowiak.

The new findings come on the heels of a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that estimated every one in 88 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder. That number represents about a 25 percent increase from the agency’s last report in 2006.

Meanwhile, Krakowiak and her colleagues note that nearly 60 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age (20-39 years) are overweight, one-third are obese and 16 percent have so-called metabolic syndrome — a constellation of symptoms, including high blood pressure and insulin resistance, that raise heart disease risk.

Although no one can say the nation’s rising obesity rate is to blame for the prevalence of autism, Krakowiak said the parallel increases did catch her attention.

“That was definitely one area that I took note of too. I knew obesity rates and diabetes rates were rising, and autism rates were too,” she said.

Hannah Gardener, an epidemiologist in the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami, told Reuters Health that she thinks it’s natural for people to draw a connection between the two rising rates.

“There is a lot that is unknown and studies like these really help us figure out the questions that need to be answered,” said Gardener, who has investigated risk factors for autism in the past.

But Gardener warns that she believes researchers are far away from understanding what might create a link between obesity and autism.

Krakowiak told Reuters Health there are a few theories, such as that vascular problems and an overabundance of inflammatory proteins in obesity, could be crucial in a baby’s brain development.

Regardless of how strong the association is or isn’t, Gardener said there is enough evidence to encourage moms-to-be to get healthy.

“Even though this association is far from being proven, there is plenty of evidence that obesity and insulin resistance can have health consequence for mothers and fetuses,” Gardener told Reuters Health.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, online April 9, 2012.


One thought on “Don’t Get Crazy With The Mom Obesity-Autism Link -Yet

    beyondautismawareness responded:
    04-11-2012 at 1:37 pm

    Saying Obesity Causes Autism is Careless
    ..By Susan Graybeal
    According to Good Morning America, a study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests the risk of autism increases with mothers who are obese, hypertensive or diabetic. But the report states obesity and autism are on the rise, and I believe the connection between the two likely stops there.
    Autism, like cancer, is one of those unfortunate things that seems to have no good explanation regardless of how hard the medical community tries to find one. Just as seemingly everything causes cancer, the straw-grasp for the cause of autism goes on. I remember several years where it seemed nearly certain that vaccines were the culprit of autism. Now, for the past several years, the answer to the concern over vaccines is they do not cause autism.
    According to Dr. Susan Hyman of the University of Rochester Medical Center, autism is believed to be caused by an interaction of multiple genetic and environmental influences. Meaning the medical community doesn’t really know. I would be willing to bet if it ever finally does find the precise recipe, it’s not going to be obesity. Diabetes or hypertension? Perhaps, if diabetes or high blood pressure is found to effect neurological development. But those things aren’t obesity. They can exist side-by-side with obesity; obesity can sometimes produce those conditions. But those conditions can also exist without obesity.
    Without a doubt, obesity does lead to health issues. Those issues are mainly personal ones, but it doesn’t take a doctor to know that unhealthy eating habits can be passed along from parent to child. Without a doubt, a mother’s healthy lifestyle is a good thing for a child both before and after it is born. But to simply say “obesity causes autism” is careless. Every bit as careless, perhaps, as saying vaccines cause autism. The truth is, we don’t really know what causes it, though it will be a wonderful day when we finally figure it out.


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