What causes autism, and why has there been such an increase in the number of children diagnosed with the condition over the past few decades? That question has resulted in much fraught debate–and some bad science, too. Now, researchers at Johns Hopkins are wading into the debate with new research that shows a surprising factor that may contribute to an increased risk of autism.
According to the study, mothers who were obese and had diabetes (including gestational diabetes) were four times more likely to give birth to children later diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Other studies had previously linked diabetic mothers and autism, but this study is intriguing because it adds obesity to the mix.
Researchers aren’t yet sure just how maternal health problems might contribute to autism risk. It might have something to do with fetal brain inflammation, or levels of folate — two factors crucial for brain development.
In any case, says study co-author M. Daniele Fallin, director of Johns Hopkins’s Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at the Bloomberg School and chair of the Department of Mental Health “In order to prevent autism, we may need to consider not only pregnancy, but also pre-pregnancy health.”