New statistics recently revealed there are more children living with autism in the U.S. than researchers thought. While some of that spike may be due to better methods for detecting the disorder, experts say there could be environmental factors at play.
Now a new study suggests one of those factors could be a mother's weight during pregnancy.
The risk for autism can be elevated even before a child is born. Not because of genetics, but rather, the birth mother's weight.
(sot: irva hertz-picciotto, ph.d., uc davis mind institute)
"her biochemistry really has a profound impact on development -- including brain development," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Ph.d. at UC Davis Mind Institute.
A new study of 1,000 mothers and their children finds women who are obese during pregnancy are 60-percent more likely to have a child with autism -- and two times more likely to have a child with a developmental delay.
Having Type 2 Diabetes, a condition often linked to obesity, also increases the risk.
"Diabetes in particular was associated with poorer scores in terms of language," said Dr. Hertz-Picciotto.
The researchers say conditions that cause a spike in insulin can starve a mothers' tissues of oxygen, lowering the oxygen supply to their unborn child and potentially affecting its brain development.
More than sixty percent of women of childbearing age in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese.
"If you are planning a pregnancy you might want to think about losing weight, getting your exercise routine in order and controlling your blood sugar," said Dr. Hertz-Picciotto.
The doctor suggested those were factors that could help the next generation's physical and mental health.
The study found children without autism whose mothers were obese or diabetic during pregnancy also had deficits in problem solving and language, though not as severe as those diagnosed with a developmental disorder.