Maternal metabolic conditions, including obesity and/or diabetes, are linked to a higher chance of giving birth to children with a neurodevelopmental disorder, including autism, researchers from the University of California, Davis, California, and Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee reported in the journal Pediatrics. The authors added that as obesity rates have been rising steadily, and appear to be continuing to grow, their findings raise “serious public health concerns.”

As background information, the researchers explain that maternal diabetes had been found, in earlier studies, to be linked to a higher risk of general development impairments in offspring. However, none of them had focused on whether autism rates might be influenced by obesity or diabetes during pregnancy.

In this study, the authors set out to determine what impact metabolic conditions during pregnancy might have during pregnancy on ASD (autism spectrum disorder), DD (developmental delays), or other developmental impairments in offspring.

They gathered data on 1,005 children who had enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study, dated 2003-2010. They were aged from two to five years. 517 of them had been diagnosed with an ASD, 172 were found to have other developmental disorders, and the rest (315) were developing as expected.

The researchers found a “strong association” between maternal metabolic conditions (during pregnancy) and ASD or developmental delays. Metabolic conditions include obesity, diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure).

Below are some highlighted data that came from this study:

  • A mother who is obese during pregnancy is 1.6 times as likely to give birth to a child with an ASD compared to mothers of typically normal weight
  • Obese mothers were found to have double the risk of having a child with some other developmental disorder
  • The offspring of mothers who had diabetes scored lower on language and communication tests, when compared to those whose mothers had no MCs (metabolic conditions

In the same journal, the authors concluded:

“Maternal MCs may be broadly associated with neurodevelopmental problems in children. With obesity rising steadily, these results appear to raise serious public health concerns.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist