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Your Environment. Your Health.

Maternal Diabetes and Obesity Associated with Higher Autism Risk

Xiaobin Wang, Sc.D.
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
R21ES011666

Children of women who are both obese and diabetic are more than four times as likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder than children of healthy weight mothers without diabetes, according to a new study funded in part by NIEHS.

Previous studies have suggested a link between maternal diabetes and autism, but this is one of the first studies to examine the independent and combined association of maternal obesity and diabetes with the risk of autism in a group of children followed since birth. The researchers analyzed 2,734 mother-child pairs who were part of the Boston Birth Cohort, recruited at the Boston Medical Center at birth. They identified 102 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder during the study.

When examined individually, maternal obesity prior to pregnancy and pregestational diabetes were each associated with autism risk. However, the association was stronger for women with both risk factors. Specifically, the researchers report a significantly increased risk of offspring with autism for mothers with obesity and pregestational diabetes (hazard ratio 3.91, 95 percent confidence interval 1.76-8.68) and mothers with obesity and gestational diabetes (hazard ratio 3.04, 95 percent confidence interval 1.21-7.63).

Citation: Li M, Fallin MD, Riley A, Landa R, Walker SO, Silverstein M, Caruso D, Pearson C, Kiang S, Dahm JL, Hong X, Wang G, Wang MC, Zuckerman B, Wang X. 2016. The association of maternal obesity and diabetes with autism and other developmental disabilities. Pediatrics 137(2):1-10.