About one in 88 U.S. children has a so-called autism spectrum disorder, which includes milder forms of the disorder, such as Asperger syndrome, according to updated figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in six U.S. children has a developmental delay, such as a speech or language impairment or other intellectual disabilities, the CDC says.
Considering that about one-third of the women of child-bearing age in the United States are obese and almost 9 percent have diabetes, the findings could have serious public-health implications, said Krakowiak.
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, said the findings "should not be ignored." However, he noted that other genetic or environmental factors are likely contributing to autism. Many parents of autistic children are of normal weight, while many obese parents don't have autistic kids.
"Although the results of this study suggest obesity is a risk factor for developmental problems in offspring, one cannot assume that developmental problems in the offspring are due to obesity, and many other factors may be involved or responsible," Adesman said.
Indeed, other research published last week identified several spontaneous genetic mutations as the cause of a fraction of autism cases. Parents' ages, especially fathers older than 35, were also associated with autism in those recent studies, published online in the journal Nature.
The reasons for the link between obesity and autism/developmental delays are unknown, though some research suggests that obesity unleashes inflammatory proteins, some of which may be able to cross the placenta into the fetus. It's possible the inflammatory proteins, known as cytokines, may harm a fetus's developing brain, Krakowiak said.
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