Even at young ages, individuals with autism are far more likely to be obese or overweight than their typically-developing peers, a new study finds.
In a review of medical records, researchers found that more than 23 percent of children with autism and 25 percent of those with Asperger’s syndrome were obese. Meanwhile, another 15 percent of kids with autism and 11 percent with Asperger’s were overweight.
That compared to just over 6 percent of typically-developing children who were obese and 11 percent who were overweight.
The findings come from a review of records from patients ages 2 to 20 treated at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and its affiliates between 2008 and 2011.
Researchers identified 2,075 with autism, 901 with Asperger’s and 3,696 typically-developing controls, all of whom had their weight and height recorded during at least one medical visit. These figures were used to calculate each individual’s body mass index.
“We found significant differences emerged at the youngest age category (2 to 5 years) and persisted to the oldest age category,” Sarabeth Broder-Fingert of the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and her colleagues wrote in their findings published in the July-August issue of the journal Academic Pediatrics.
Among those on the spectrum, individuals with co-occurring sleep disorders, public insurance and those at older ages were more likely to be obese or overweight, the study found. Researchers did not spot any association with use of psychiatric medication but said that may be due to limited data on use of such drugs in the medical records they studied.
It’s unclear what is fueling the increased odds of obesity for this population, but researchers said further study should examine the time spent in sedentary activities, access to physical activity, social issues with peers and the use of food as a reward for good behavior as possible culprits.
The findings echo those from a study earlier this year conducted by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which found that obesity is 50 percent more common in adolescents with developmental disabilities and those with autism face the greatest risk.