Obesity during pregnancy may be linked to a child's chance of being diagnosed with autism, according to a new study.
The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, is one of the first to draw a connection between the two. Scientists say it raises significant concerns, due to the high rate of obesity among Americans.
Researchers found that women in the study who were obese during pregnancy were about 67% more likely to have autistic children, compared to normal-weight women. Obese women were also twice as likely to have children with other developmental problems.
One of the reasons for the connection is that obesity is generally linked to inflammation and elevated blood sugar levels. Inflammatory substances and excess sugar in the mother's blood may reach the fetus and affect brain development.
Study authors point out that more than one-third of U.S. women of child-bearing age are obese, adding to the concern and emphasizing the importance of maintaining a normal weight.
Obesity during pregnancy has already been linked to stillbirths, preterm births and some birth defects.
The study was co-authored by a scientist at the University of California, Davis. Researchers followed about 1,000 children in California, ages 2 to 5. Nearly 700 had autism or other developmental delays. Researchers compared the mothers' medical records and asked them about their health.
Scientists say that if there is indeed a causal relationship between obesity and autism, it would be just one of many risk factors for autism.