Diabetic and obese mothers are likely to give birth to a child with autism or another developmental disability, says researchers.
A major study conducted by researchers affiliated with the UC Davis MIND Institute found that mothers who were obese were 1-2/3 times more likely to have a child with autism as normal-weight mothers without diabetes or hypertension, and were more than twice as likely to have a child with another developmental disorder.
Mothers with diabetes were found to have nearly 2-1/3 times the chance of having a child with developmental delays as healthy mothers. However, the proportion of mothers with diabetes who had a child with autism was higher than in healthy mothers but did not reach statistical significance.
The study also found that the autistic children of diabetic mothers were more disabled -- had greater deficits in language comprehension and production and adaptive communication -- than were the children with autism born to healthy mothers.
However, the children without autism born to diabetic mothers also exhibited impairments in socialization in addition to language comprehension and production, when compared with the non-autistic children of healthy women. Children without autism of mothers with any of the metabolic conditions displayed mild deficits in problem solving, language comprehension and production, motor skills and socialization.
“Over a third of U.S. women in their childbearing years are obese and nearly one-tenth have gestational or type 2 diabetes during pregnancy. Our finding that these maternal conditions may be linked with neurodevelopmental problems in children raises concerns and therefore may have serious public-health implications,” said Paula Krakowiak, a biostatician affiliated with the MIND Institute.
The study included 1,004 mother/child pairs from diverse backgrounds enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment Study (CHARGE), most of them living in Northern California, with a small subset living in Los Angeles.
The children were between 24 and 60 months old, born in California and resided with at least one biological parent who spoke either English or Spanish. There were 517 children who had autism; 172 with other developmental disorders; and 315 were developing normally. The participants were enrolled between January 2003 and June 2010.
The researchers obtained demographic and medical information for the mothers and their children using the CHARGE Study Environmental Exposure Questionnaire, a telephone survey, the study participants’ birth files and medical records. The primary metabolic conditions of interest were type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes.
Women were considered diabetic if the condition was noted in their medical records or if during the telephone surveys they answered yes to the questions
Among children whose mothers were diabetic during their pregnancies, the study found that the percentage of children with autism born to women with type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes -- 9.3 percent -- or developmental disability -- 11.6 percent -- was higher than the 6.4 percent of children born to women without these metabolic conditions.
Over 20 percent of the mothers of children with autism or other developmental disability were obese, compared with 14 percent of the mothers of normally developing children.
Approximately 29 percent of the children with autism had mothers with a metabolic condition, and nearly 35 percent of the children with another developmental disorder had mothers with metabolic conditions, compared with 19 percent of the normal children had mothers with a metabolic condition.
The study also examined the link between hypertension and autism or developmental disorder. The prevalence of high blood pressure was low for all groups, but more common among mothers of children with autism or developmental disorder, though the finding did not reach statistical significance.
Analyses of the children’s cognitive abilities found that, among the children with autism, children of mothers with diabetes exhibited poorer performance on tests of expressive and receptive language and communication skills of everyday living when compared with the children of non-diabetic mothers.
And the presence of any metabolic condition was associated with lower scores on all of the tests among children without autism.
The finding has been published online in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.