Parental Obesity and Autism Risk

There has been a vast number of new studies coming out that are exploring the link between maternal and paternal obesity. Researchers are now noticing that perhaps paternal obesity could be a greater risk factor than maternal obesity, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

In a study conducted using data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) of about 93,000 Norwegian children ages three, five, and seven. Mothers had answered detailed questionnaires about their own mental and physical health as well as their children. Fathers answered the same questions about their mental and physical health while their partner was pregnant.

From the surveyed population, 419 children were diagnosed with ASD. About 22% of the mothers and 43% of the fathers were found to be overweight with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 30 and 10% of parents were obese with a BMI of 30 or more.

They found that babies born to obese fathers were linked to having double the risk of having autism, however these statistics were still quite small where just under 0.3% were diagnosed with autism compared to 0.14% of kids with normal weight fathers. Dr. Pal Suren says, “We were very surprised by these findings because we expected that maternal obesity would be the main risk factor for the development of ASD. It means we have had too much focus on the mother and too little on the father.”

He concluded that certain gene variations could be linked to increased risks of both obesity and autism, or obese men could be more likely to have certain environmental exposures that contribute to autism risk. Dr. Suren explains that conducting similar studies in different countries could help researchers in understanding if their findings can be applied to other populations.

For now this study still works on a theory of this existing link. And though the link is still quite small Dr Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York says that it an important risk factor to explore since obesity is becoming so common across the globe.

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