Children born to obese women with diabetes are more than four times as likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder than children of healthy weight mothers without diabetes, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.
The findings, to be published January 29 in the journal Pediatrics, highlight what has become a leading theory about autism, that the risk likely develops before the child is even born.
“We have long known that obesity and diabetes aren’t good for mothers’ own health,” says study leader Dr. Xiaobin Wang, the Zanvyl Krieger Professor in Child Health at the Bloomberg School and director of the Center on the Early Life Origins of Disease. “Now we have further evidence that these conditions also impact the long-term neural development of their children.”
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by severe deficits in socialization, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Since the 1960s, the prevalence rates have skyrocketed, with one in 68 U.S. children now affected by it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity and diabetes have also risen to epidemic levels in women of reproductive age over the same time period.