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New study on association between prenatal obesity and child autism

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According to a new National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study, there may be an association between certain conditions during a mother’s pregnancy, such as obesity and gestational diabetes, and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)-related behaviors in childhood.              

The study included nearly 7,000 participants from 40 NIH Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) cohorts. Eight of the cohorts included participants with increased likelihood of ASD. Researchers collected data on maternal health conditions during pregnancy, child autism-related social behaviors, and participant demographics.

The study suggested that maternal obesity and gestational diabetes were associated with indicators of autism-related social behaviors. Investigators did not see increases in these behaviors for children of mothers with preeclampsia or gestational hypertension. There was no strong evidence to suggest that ASD-related traits were related to preterm birth or low birth weight, which are common complications of these pregnancy conditions.

Learn more about this research through the affiliated flash talk.

“Investigating how exposures, health conditions, and risk factors relate across the full range of the outcome distribution may help us learn more about the nature of these relationships and their impact on the population,” said Kristen Lyall, ScD of Drexel University.

Dr. Lyall and Christine Ladd-Acosta, PhD of Johns Hopkins University, are both ECHO Program investigators and led this collaborative effort. Their research is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“Our results highlight the need for better prenatal care and more monitoring of women experiencing conditions like obesity during pregnancy,” said Dr. Ladd-Acosta.

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