When excessively overweight, diabetic or hypertensive pregnant
women gave birth, their infants’ chance of being autistic rose and so did the
possibility their kids would have some other neurodevelopmental disorder, according
to a study published in the journal Pediatrics and reported by MSNBC.
In general, children with neurodevelopmental disorders
experience difficulties with language and speech, motor skills, behavior,
memory, learning or other neurological functions. Besides autism, neurodevelopmental
disorders include certain intellectual and learning disabilities and attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
For the study, researchers from the University of California
at Davis compared the medical histories of 315 children with normal rates of
development to those of 517 children with autism and 172 children with
Researchers found that children’s risk of autism increased
by nearly 70 percent when their moms were obese during pregnancy, and that babies’
chances of having some type of neurodevelopmental disorder also doubled. What’s
more, scientists found that diabetic moms were more than twice as likely to
have a child who would later be diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder.
Although scientists don’t definitely know how obesity and
diabetes affect babies’ brain development, some believe inflammatory proteins
produced by obese moms’ fat cells may cause problems.
“These same proteins are involved in the normal development
of the brain,” said Paula Krakowiak, a PhD candidate at UC Davis and the
study’s lead author. “When the level of those immunological markers is higher
or lower than the normal range it might affect how the brain develops in an
adverse way. And at least one type has been shown to be able to cross over the
placenta to the fetus.”
In addition, it’s also possible that when obese and diabetic
women develop higher than normal levels of blood glucose, it can negatively
affect the babies’ brain development and also cause infants to grow faster and produce
more of the hormone insulin.
What do experts advise? Until researchers pinpoint the exact
cause of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in kids, obese moms
might want to work on getting their weight under control, Krakowiak suggested.
Did you know black children are more likely to be diagnosed
late with autism—and possibly harmed by the delay? Click here to read more.