Higher Obesity Rates in Autistic Children

We already know that rates of obesity have been on a steady rise in the US. As we become more health conscious, researchers have begun noticing trends in weight gain when it comes to children and youth on the autism spectrum. Using a large patient database from the Massachusetts General Hosp Researchers looked at 6672 children, ages 2 through 20 years old, and found 2075 with autism, 901 with Asperger’s, and 3696 typically developing to use as a control. They calculated the body mass index (BMI) of each child using their last recorded weight and height and then calculated the differences between the groups. Twenty three percent of children with autism and twenty five percent of those with Asperger’s were obese and another fifteen percent and eleven percent, respectively were overweight.

In the control group they found only 6 percent of the kids to be obese and 11 percent overweight. “ We found significant differences at the youngest age category (2-5 years old) and persisted to the oldest age category,” Sarabeth Broder-Fingert of the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and her colleagues wrote in this study, published in the July-August issue of the journal of Academic Pediatrics. 

Researchers have yet to identify the reasons behind the differences we see in these two groups, however, they say further study should examine how much time autistic children spend doing individual activities that don’t require moving, their access to physical activities and their physical abilities, and heir eating habits especially when it comes to food being used as a reward. Just earlier this year the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found obesity to be 50 percent more prevalent in adolescents with developmental disabilities and that those with autism face the greatest risk.

Many therapists and newer studies are finding that movement and exercises can have therapeutic results for children on the spectrum. Improvement in motor skills can have other positive impacts for children who struggle with communication even. This obesity disparity will be important to research and understand as we continue to develop best practices for those on the spectrum to lead happy and successful lives.