Diabetes combined with obesity in pregnant women increases their risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to research from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The study, published in the journal Autism Research, is titled “Maternal metabolic risk factors for autism spectrum disorder—An analysis of electronic medical records and linked birth data.”
There are many variations of autism, and ASD defines an autistic spectrum with overlapping symptoms. But ASD’s prevalence is on the increase, as is the number of cases of adult obesity and diabetes, suggesting a possible link between the conditions.
Dr. Katherine Bowers, the study’s senior author, used existing electronic medical records and birth data in the investigation, explaining that using electronic medical data can help to clarify the theory being examined — maternal obesity and diabetes and its link to autism — across large populations. “Without placing any burden on study participants or the costs of developing an epidemiologic study from scratch, we can use the vast amounts of data already collected for clinical purposes to conduct broad population-based studies on this link to autism. We are very excited about the future studies we can do with this ability,” she said in a news release.
Researchers compared the medical records of women whose children were diagnosed with ASD, with the records of women whose children were diagnosed with non-autism developmental disorders. Ultimately, scientists also compared the data with records of women whose children did not present any developmental disorder.
Results showed that the risk of having children with ASD was 1.5 times higher in pregnant women who were either obese or had gestational diabetes, compared to new mothers of children without developmental disorders. In women who had both conditions, gestational diabetes and obesity, this risk was twofold.
Among all women included in the study, 487 had a child with ASD, 1,495 had a child with other types of developmental disorder, and 35,734 had a child without a developmental disorder.
The results supported the suspected link between maternal gestational diabetes and obesity and children born with ASD. The authors emphasized, however, that larger and multi-institutional research is needed to validate that the association seen actually exists.