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Mother’s Body Mass Index Linked to Child’s Autism Risk

By Chelsea E. Toledo, M.A. on October 7, 2016


Background: Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is characterized by behavioral, communicative, and social differences that usually appear in early childhood. Research has pointed to both genetic and environmental factors underpinning the disorder. A number of environmental factors such as advanced parental age, exposure to toxicants, and maternal health conditions during pregnancy have been associated with a higher risk for having a child with autism.


What’s New: On September 30, 2016, Scientific Reports published a meta-analysis (an analysis of a series of studies) exploring whether mothers’ body mass index, or BMI, could be a risk factor for ASD. The researchers conducted a comprehensive review of seven previously published studies – examining data from more than 500,000 participants, 8,400 of whom had ASD. They found that mothers’ BMI before or during pregnancy was associated with the risk of ASD in offspring, with the highest risk among children of overweight (28%) and obese mothers (36%).


Why it’s important: This study suggests the recent increase in ASD may be related to an increase in obesity rates. Future studies could pinpoint the exact relationship between maternal BMI and ASD risk.


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