January 29, 2016 7:33 pm

Baby at higher risk of developing autism if mother is obese during pregnancy: study

WATCH ABOVE: Diabetes and obesity are at epidemic levels in women of child bearing age - and now a new study is linking the two conditions to autism risk in children. Danielle Nottingham reports.

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Pregnant women who are obese and diabetic have a quadruple risk of having a baby that will develop autism, according to a new study.

“We found that mothers who were obese and diabetic during pregnancy had a risk four times greater than mothers who didn’t of the child developing autism,” Dr. Dani Fallin from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told CBS News.

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READ MORE: Autism, antidepressants and pregnancy: Should you be concerned?

The research from Johns Hopkins shows an association that maternal obesity and diabetes adversely impact a developing infant and their long-term metabolic health, according to the study’s authors.

Researchers analyzed more than 2,700 mother-child pairs at the Boston Medical Center at birth between 1998 and 2014. They collected data on maternal pre-pregnancy weight and whether the mothers had diabetes before getting pregnant or whether they developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

Researchers say obesity and diabetes are related to inflammation and how it impacts the body.

“It’s important for us to now try to figure out what is it about the combination of obesity and diabetes that is potentially contributing to sub-optimal fetal health,” said study co-author Daniele Fallin, director of the Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at the Bloomberg School.

Dr. Paul Wang from advocacy group Autism Speaks says the study reinforces what has become a theory on autism risk – maternal exposure matters.

READ MORE: Exposure to chemicals in everyday products while pregnant may increase risk of autism: researchers

“I think it’s very clear actually. That the processes that underlie autism in a large majority of cases start before birth. That is true for genetic factors, true for things like pollution exposure,” Wang told CBS News.

Researchers also found a higher autism risk in mothers who developed gestational diabetes.

According to researchers, though both obesity and diabetes are known to cause general stress on the body, scientists don’t yet fully understand the biology of why the two conditions contribute to autism risk.

“There are many hypotheses about how a disrupted immune system during brain development can create developmental disabilities, ” Dr. Fallin told CBS News.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development, according to Autism Speaks. Although there is not recent data in Canada, in the United States one-in-68 eight-year-old children have been identified with ASD.

The study, The Association of Maternal Obesity and Diabetes With Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, was recently published in the journal Pediatrics.

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