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The metabolic condition of the mother not only affects the physical development of her child but also has a bearing upon his mental health. A research has found that mother’s obesity can cause autism related disorders and developmental delay in child.

One in every 88 Children in the US is suffering from some kind of Autism Related Disorder

There has been a sudden spurt in the number of children suffering from autism related disorders and developmental delays in the US in the last few years. According to the latest statistics provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 88 children in the US is suffering from some kind of autism related disorder. The figure shows an increase of almost 25% from the last report which was made public in 2006.

An important question that comes to the mind is that whether the rising rates of autism related disorders are in any way related to the rising levels of obesity in women. At present, almost 60% of women who belong to the child-bearing age group are overweight. Close to 35% are obese, while 16% of them suffer from metabolic syndrome.

In a new report published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from the University of California, Davis, investigated whether the maternal health is, in any way, responsible for the development of autism related disorders in the children.

The study found out that metabolic conditions in the mother during her pregnancy, have a profound effect on the cognitive development of the child, and obesity is associated with an increased incidence of neuro-developmental problems. However, the study could not establish the mechanism by which obesity in mother may lead to these problems in her child.

Metabolic Conditions like Diabetes, Hypertension and Obesity during Pregnancy can lead to Developmental Delays in the Offspring

For their study, the researchers examined 1004 children between the ages of 2 and 5 who were already enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study at UC Davis. 517 of these children suffered from an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) while 172 suffered from developmental delays. They found out that among the children suffering from ASD, 111 had obese mothers while 148 had mothers with some form of metabolic condition. 20 of the children born to mothers with gestational diabetes, 41 of the children born to obese mothers, and 60 of the children born to mothers suffering from some metabolic condition, suffered from developmental delays. The researchers derived the conclusion that metabolic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and obesity during pregnancy can lead to developmental delays in the offspring.

Autism is a condition characterized by repetitive behavior and poor social skills. Almost 50% of the cases are attributed to genetics. The remaining cases are believed to be a result of old parental age, premature birth, complications during birth, failure to take prenatal vitamins, and small gap between two children. In fact, the researchers from UC, Davis had presented a study last year, in which they had found that environmental pollution can also give rise to ASD. And now, they have found out that maternal obesity may also be playing an important role in the development of the condition.

The researchers of the study have opined that the brain of the growing fetus is influenced by almost everything that happens in the body of the mother. And therefore, if the mother is obese, it too can affect the brain. The only silver lining in the depressing scenario of ever-increasing obesity rates is the fact that obesity is a modifiable risk factor. It can easily be overcome by making modifications in the lifestyle of an individual.

  • “Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders”, by Paula Krakowiak, et al. Published in the April, 2012 issue of the journal pediatrics, accessed on April 19, 2012. Retrieved from:
  • “Mom's obesity tied to child's autism, development: study”, by Andrew Seaman. Published in the April 9, 2012 issue of Reuters Health, accessed on April 19, 2012. Retrieved from:
  • Photo courtesy of campascca on Flickr: