Link between pregnant mothers with obesity and diabetes

breastfedA new study, published by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, has revealed that there is a correlation between pregnant mothers diagnosed with obesity and diabetes and autistic children.

One out of 45 children is affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the statistic increases on a yearly basis. The scientists noted that the increased prevalence of ASD mirrors an increase in obesity and diabetes.

The research findings reveal that pregnant mothers with obesity or gestational diabetes were 1.5 times more likely to have a child with ASD. Four hundred and eight seven mothers had a child with ASD, 1,495 had a child with another type of developmental disorder, and 35,734 mothers of children without ASD or a developmental disorder were included for control. The average age of mothers having children with ASD was 28.6 years, and 27.4 years for both mothers of children with a developmental disorder and for controls.

Mothers with both obesity and gestational diabetes increased the risk two fold. The researchers analyzed medical records and birth data from patients and mothers. Mothers who had a child diagnosed with ASD were compared to mothers of children with a non-autism developmental disorder. Mothers who had children with no developmental disorders were included in their analysis. The scientists used a novel language processing technique to analyze free medical notes and confirm autism diagnosis differentiated by a numerical code.

“Although previous studies report a link between maternal obesity and diabetes during pregnancy to autism, we demonstrate that electronic medical data can verify and establish the extent of this link across large populations,” said Katherine Bowers, PhD, MPH, study senior author and a member of the Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Cincinnati Children’s.

“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,” said Katherine Bowers.


Natalia Connolly, Julia Anixt, Patty Manning, Daniel Ping-I Lin, Keith A. Marsolo, Katherine Bowers. Maternal metabolic risk factors for autism spectrum disorder-An analysis of electronic medical records and linked birth data. Autism Research, 2016; DOI: 10.1002/aur.1586

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