Autism risk and maternal diabetes with obesity: What you need to know
Our experts provide perspective on new research linking diabetes and obesity during pregnancy with increased risk of autism
In today’s Pediatrics, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health report that they found a three- to four-fold higher rate of autism among children born to women who were both diabetic and obese during pregnancy.
The findings raise many questions and concerns. To provide perspective, we talked with epidemiologist Michael Rosanoff and developmental pediatrician Paul Wang. Dr. Wang is Autism Speaks’ senior vice president for medical research. Mr. Rosanoff is Autism Speaks’ director for public health research.
Q: Too often, this type of finding is taken as implying parents are somehow to blame for their children’s autism. Why would you urge against such an interpretation?
Michael Rosanoff: Autism is a complex condition caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. By environmental, researchers mean a broad range of nongenetic influences including maternal health and conditions in the womb. No one environmental factor causes autism by itself. So when we say an environmental factor increases the risk of autism, we are not saying that it causes autism. In other words, not all moms who are both diabetic and obese will have a child with autism. In fact, the vast majority will not.
Paul Wang: We welcome research that helps us identify some of the factors that increase the risk that autism will develop. But as Michael suggests, the vast majority of children exposed to these risk factors do not develop autism. Except in Continue reading