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Autism Tied To Weight Gain During Pregnancy


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How much weight a mother gains while pregnant may offer clues about autism, a new study suggests.

Researchers have identified small but significant differences in patterns of weight gain during pregnancy in cases where children were later diagnosed with autism as opposed to pregnancies resulting in typically-developing kids.

However, those behind the new study were quick to emphasize that weight gain itself may not be the cause of autism, but rather that it may be symptomatic of other issues related to the developmental disorder.

“The risk of autism spectrum disorder associated with a modest yet consistent increase in pregnancy weight gain suggests that pregnancy weight gain may serve as an important marker for autism’s underlying gestational etiology,” said Deborah Bilder, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah who led the study which was published online this week in the journal Pediatrics.

“These findings suggest that weight gain during pregnancy is not the cause of ASD but rather may reflect an underlying process that it shares with autism spectrum disorders, such as abnormal hormone levels or inflammation,” Bilder said.

For the study, Bilder and her colleagues looked at two different groups of children living in Utah. In one case, researchers compared birth records for 128 kids diagnosed with autism to a control group of 10,920 without the developmental disorder. Then, they compared records for a separate group of 288 kids on the spectrum to those of their 493 unaffected siblings.

Though the differences were small, the researchers found that autism risk was “significantly associated” with weight gain during pregnancy in both groups studied.

Bilder said that no immediate changes are warranted for pregnant mothers.

“Pregnant women should not change their diet based on these results. Rather, this study provides one more piece for the autism puzzle that researchers are exploring,” she said.

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Comments (15 Responses)

  1. Hank B says:

    It would be nice if this article gave some perspective on whether the association was with too MUCH weight gain or too LITTLE weight gain!

  2. Amanda D says:

    Hank, I agree, but it may be good that it is left out. Although the article includes an explanation, some anxious readers who are pregnant may still confuse correlation with causality and change their diets based on that, which could be very detrimental to their child.

  3. margaret says:

    Shame on you ….. this is this time. High inconclusive..and is a set back .. to the time of “refrigerator mothers”… tsk tsk

  4. michele says:

    Totally agree with Margaret. What is the point of this “article” and the title is completely misleading.

  5. Whitney says:

    I might interject. Who is funding these studies? I mean where is the oversight. So far this one of the articles that offers more or less absolutely no information.

  6. Patricia says:

    humm – that unfortunately smacks of the “blame the mother” stories from decades ago – I haven’t read the REAL research so I will refrain from stating my thoughts…. but shame on disability scoop for sensationalizing… even their article states… “These findings suggest that weight gain during pregnancy is not the cause of ASD but rather may reflect an underlying process that it shares with autism spectrum disorders, such as abnormal hormone levels or inflammation” So – as suggested in the article – perhaps
    “abnormal hormone levels or inflammation levels are tied to Autism” would be a better title… BOO on Disability scoop for this one – and I usually like what you have to say…in the future I will be more suspect.

  7. Suzanne says:

    I can only speak for myself, but I think their could definitely be something to what this research is Investigating. I also do not think anyone was suggesting that ASDs should possibly be blamed on pregnant mothers who gain too much weight either. My understanding is that significant weight gain during pregnancy could possibly be a symptom or marker of an underlying condition possibly related to the cause or other. Keep up the great research!

  8. Penelope says:

    Food for thought here – I have hypothyroidism, caused by my immune system when I was 10 (after a nasty bout of food poisoning my thyroid was pronounced completely dead). Hypothyroidism during pregnancy is also linked to ASD. The mother’s thyroid levels triggers the developing brain to create neural connections. Weight gain is a major symptom. So is fatigue, and changes to skin and hair.

    I gained significant weight with my first child, who has moderate ASD (though I believe she is a 2e kid). My thyroid med levels were checked once, but I was under poor care and in hindsight I had all the symptoms of needing increased meds as the pregnancy progressed. I gained less with my second child, but they increased my medication around the five-month mark. He has mild ASD.

    I have often wondered if a study would ever be done that would closely monitor the thyroid levels of mothers-to-be and then see if 1) the thyroid levels remain healthy and stable (standard symptoms can be confused with pregnancy complaints) and 2) treating any thyroid conditions discovered would cause a drop in the control group’s incidence of ASD compared to the national average.

    In today’s modern world, food manufacturers routinely fill their products with additives and fillers that, in small doses, are not that harmful. But when consumed all day, every day, from products scattered all over the grocery store, this junk builds up. (Did you know that soy is considered very bad for normal thyroid function? Or that some people will have improve thyroid function after a few years of following a gluten-free diet?)

    We learned decades ago the dangers of gestational diabetes, and standard prenatal care includes a pee test every doctor’s visit. Maybe in the coming years they will run thyroid tests just as often.

  9. Sonja says:

    Another article requiring payment in order to read. These “journals” aren’t necessarily as trustworthy as the main reason for existing is to make money.

    Perhaps Disability Scoop would do a better public service if attempting to share full articles (as I’ve requested numerous times over the years) so we could make fully informed decisions.

  10. Annee says:

    The headline is inflammatory and just wrong. I concur with the reader who suggested thyroid function as a suspect. I also am very interested in the studies done in the Nordic countries suggesting that low D3 levels may contribute. Low D would cause fatigue and other problems that might lead to weight gain. The studies suggested that as women eschew a diet that would provide dietary D (eggs for example) and slather on sunblock (which prevents the body from making its own D) especially in low sun areas autism rates rise.

    I see no evidence, except perhaps in the anti-weight bias that seems to prevail.

  11. Amy Pendragon says:

    This study did not enlighten me one bit. I found myself wondering if women gained more weight or less weight that the recommended range? Was the amniotic fluid weight estimated for each woman? Was the height/weight considered, genetics, age, histology, medications? I find this thesis flimsy at best.

  12. Amanda D says:

    If you read this article and feel guilty about your weight during pregnancy because you have a child with ASD–go read the article again. There is no blame it in–you are projecting that. It is simply noting a CORRELATION between the pregnancy weight and ASD, which could be a significant step toward future research. These sorts of findings do matter! Armed with this information, scientists can plan future research to look at things like thyroid function or low vitamin D, as suggested by other commentators, or any number of other things known to cause weight gain to see if there is another connection. But scientists may not think to look at something like that closer if they don’t have the preliminary research that finds correlations like this one. Research that yields interesting facts that could lead to the next step in understanding ASD is worthwhile; observations that lead to future study/experimentation is how the scientific process works!

    But on a personal note, if you feel guilty about your child’s situation, I recommend you see a counselor or join a support group to help you address those feelings. Often, we need permission and even help to grieve, and with grieving comes healing. You will feel better, be stronger, and be more able to parent your child well.

  13. Shelly M says:

    This is vague and misleading information and is really better reported in detail by knowledgeable practitioners on a case by case basis when relevant, to whom it may be relevant, like during genetic counseling.
    This is exactly the reason why quick fix cause and solutions to autism become instantly popular with no scientific basis. Please be sensitive and ethical in the material your present! The last thing mothers need is one more reason to blame themselves, and of all things, because of weight!!??
    Shelly Michalak, BCBA
    Early Intervention Autism Practitioner

  14. Kimberly says:

    This article only hints and does not provide clear results of the study. The lack of detail also makes me wonder why the study was ever done. I assune the outcomes were based on averages. I can say that I only gained 5 pounds with my ASD son but closer to 20 with my non-autistic younger son. As a first time mom I followed dietary restrictions to a T (no caffeine, sandwich meat, chocolate. etc.) Not sure if the miniscule weight gain was due to my diet or my morning sickness that lasted 24-7 for about 8 months of the pregnancy. My personal experience doesn’t seem to follow the study results.

  15. Tendai says:

    I read the study linked in the article above and it seems like the author is confused about the objective and results of the study. Unless he was trying to be over-simplistic, inaccurate and misleading. Sheesh, autism tied to weight gain in pregnancy? Come on, Disability Scoop can do better than a trashy tabloid. Duh, women gain weight during pregnancy and you know what? We’re supposed too. Even women who are morbidly obese still need to gain weight just a smaller amount. Besides that really isn’t what the study was measuring. Next thing you’ll be saying that autism is caused by women breathing an oxygen-nitrogen mix while pregnant. Or because women speen too much time under a powerfully hot solar energy part of the day. Or maybe, just maybe, the author and/or Disability Scoop is sexist? We never see any ridiculous article that the cause of autism is due to men and their biological functions or the amount of their education and so on.

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