In the scientific hunt for the causes of autism, researchers at UC Davis may have just picked up a new trail: obesity during pregnancy.
Their study, published today in the journal Pediatrics, found obese mothers were 70 percent more likely to have a child with autism and twice as likely to have a child with other kinds of developmental delays compared with normal-weight moms with normal blood pressure and no diabetes.
“That’s totally new,” said researcher Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of epidemiology and chief of environmental and occupational health at the UC Davis MIND Institute. “Nobody has looked at obesity in relation to autism spectrum disorders that I’m aware of.”
With obesity rocketing skyward in the United States, the findings “raise serious public health concerns,” the authors wrote. However, the results could also represent a step toward uncovering causes of autism and a pathway for further research.
“Currently we really know very little about the causes of autism,” Hertz-Picciotto said. “We have a few clues.”