Pregnant women with obesity and diabetes may increase the risk of autism in their children, according to a new study.
The children in the study who were born to women with both diabetes and obesity had the greatest risk of autism. They were four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism by the age of six, than kids born to women without diabetes and obesity.
Those born to women who were obese before pregnancy, were two times more prone to be diagnosed with autism by age six, compared with kids who were born to mothers with normal weight before pregnancy.
Moreover, children born to women who had developed diabetes before pregnancy were two times more prone to diagnosed with autism by age six, than the kids born to women without diabetes, the researchers found.
Daniele Fallin, author of the study and chair of the department of mental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said that the new study sheds light on the likelihood of autism to start in utero (before birth).
For the study – published Friday (Jan. 29) in the journal Pediatrics – the researchers analysed the intellectual disabilities and autism rates in approximately 2,700 children. Data on the women’s pre-pregnancy weight and diabetes was also collected from interviews with the mothers, as well as from their medical records.
Over the six-year follow-up period, 137 children were diagnosed with intellectual disabilities and 102 were diagnosed with autism, the researchers said. Kids born to women with both diabetes and obesity also had a higher risk of intellectual disabilities, compared with those who were born to women with neither diabetes nor obesity.
One explanation as to why there may be a link between a mother’s diabetes and obesity and the risk of autism in the child is that diabetes and obesity can disrupt the immune system of the mother, contributing to the development of autism in the infant, according to the researchers. Diabetes and obesity may also cause intrauterine inflammation that can lead to the development of autism in children.
Another possible explanation has to do with folate or folic acid supplementation – a type of vitamin B that the body uses to stay healthy and function properly – which is known to be a protective factor for autism. Obesity can disrupt the uptake of folate, making it more difficult for the mother’s body to use the chemical, and thus increasing the risk of autism in the foetus, Fallin explained.
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