Earlier this spring, new data was released by the CDC concerning sharply rising rates of autism- but one of the persistent questions that remain surrounding the spike in cases is what may be precipitating the increases.
Previous studies have examined maternal and paternal age (linking the condition to older parents) as well as socioeconomic factors that may influence rates of autism. It is estimated that one in 88 kids is now affected by an autism spectrum disorder, but researchers still have yet to pin down a solid cause for the increasing prevalence of autism.
Another intriguing theory has been posited by researchers, as the presence of autism in relation to maternal obesity is examined. In the CHARGE (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) study, researchers at the University of California, Davis, followed just over 1,000 kids aged two to five years during the period between 2003 and 2010.
517 of the kids in the study were classed as having autism-spectrum disorders, 172 were affected by a developmental disorder of a different description, and the remaining 315 were observed to be developing typically. And the study, published today in the online version of the medical journal Pediatrics, found that children whose mothers were obese were 67% more likely than children whose mothers were of normal weight and free of “metabolic disorders” to present with an autism spectrum diagnosis.
Further, the study determined that children whose mothers were obese were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with developmental disorders of other descriptions, and that diabetic mothers were 2.3 times more likely to have a child with developmental delays.
Alycia Halladay is director of research for environmental sciences for advocacy group Autism Speaks, which was not involved in the study. Halladay commented to TIME:
“The prenatal period is a crucial time for the etiology of autism spectrum disorders. This adds to the body of science that there are risk factors for autism spectrum disorders that are associated with maternal health during pregnancy.”
Researchers also acknowledged that the link was simply a correlation, and that there may be an “upstream environmental factor that’s causing a rise in both metabolic conditions and autism independently.”