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Study: Maternal Obesity and Diabetes Together Increase Child's Autism Risk

Both conditions increase autism risk, researchers have found, but the risk quadruples when mom has both.

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We already know women who are obese have a higher likelihood of mothering a child with autism. We also know women with diabetes increase their risk of having an autistic child. Now, a new study published in the February 2016 issue of Pediatrics finds the combination of these two adverse health conditions increases the risk even more significantly.

The study, titled "The Association of Maternal Obesity and Diabetes with Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities," looked at more than 2,700 mom and child pairs over the course of 16 years. Researchers found moms who were obese prior to getting pregnant actually had a two-fold increased risk of having an autistic child, versus a woman who has a normal weight, or is even underweight. Meanwhile, women who developed diabetes before or during pregnancy had a similar risk.

Then researchers looked at women who suffered from both obesity and diabetes and found the autism risk was nearly four times higher! The study authors called obesity and diabetes "multiple hits" on the developing brain of a fetus, adding these two conditions also significantly increased a child's odds of having intellectual disabilities.

The study findings are especially concerning given that a third of women of reproductive age are obese, and almost one in 10 have diabetes. One in 68 children are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

The takeaway: Since obesity is a known risk factor for developing diabetes, it seems the focus needs to be on encouraging overweight women to achieve a healthy weight prior to becoming pregnant. If you are TTC and need to lose weight, as hard as it may be, talk to your doctor about steps you can take now.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.