Study: Obesity in moms and autism may be linked

FRESNO, Calif.

A new study shows the obesity epidemic may be contributing to the rising number of children diagnosed with autism.

The study released Monday in the journal Pediatrics shows that compared to non-obese mothers those who were obese before pregnancy had a 60-percent increase in the likelihood of having a child with autism.

Jodie Howard is the parent of a seven year old autistic son and the chairman of an autism parents group in Fresno.

She says the statistics from a new study linking autism to obesity are scary but believes more research needs to be done to make a clear connection between the two.

"There are so many factors involved that I don't see how we can link it to just one thing," Howard said.

The study, conducted by a group of researchers at UC Davis, involved a thousand children between the ages of two and five.

Mothers were asked about their health and medical records confirmed the conditions of half of the women.

It found mothers who are overweight during pregnancy are 60 percent more likely to have an autistic child.

Those are results ABC News Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser and other doctors believe are reason for concern with one-third of women of child bearing age overweight in the United States.

"We need to understand what really causes autism. What are the genetic factors? What are the environmental factors? How can you identify those risk factors? And are any of them preventable?" Besser told Action News.

On average, women have a one in 88 chance of having a child with autism. That risk goes up to a 1 in 53 chance when the mother is overweight.

The reason is unclear, but researchers believe excess blood sugar and inflammation-related substances in the mothers blood maybe to blame.

But both doctors and parents agree more studies need to be done to confirm the results.

"Until we have a clear diagnostic test, it's going to be a little murky, but it's so important for parents to look for signs are they're children developing normally," Besser said.

"I'm glad we're looking in various places because we don't know what causes autism and if we did we could do so much more for our children and adults that have autism," Howard said.

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