While a mom's weight before and during pregnancy is often a hot topic (we worry about eating enough of the right things and as few of the bad things as possible), we often forget that it takes two (at least) to make a baby. So how much does the dad's health and DNA contribute to your baby bundle? Researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health found that obese fathers up the risk of autism in their children more so than obese moms. That's right—the dad-to-be's weight seems to be more of a contributing factor than the mom-to-be's!
They studied nearly 93,000 Norwegian children at three, five and seven. The mothers answered detailed questions about their own—and their children's—mental and physical health, while the dads completed a questionnaire about their mental and physical health while their partners were pregnant. The researchers also collected data from the Norwegian Patient Registry and from studies of children who were referred for evaluation and treatment of possible autism or Asperger's syndrome.
The researchers adjusted for variables that may also be associated with the development of autism in the child. In addition to adjusting for maternal obesity, they considered education, age, smoking, mental disorders, hormone therapy before pregnancy, use of folic acid, maternal diabetes, preeclampsia and the baby's weight at birth. The researchers found that the risk remained unchanged when adjusted for socio-demographic and lifestyle factors.
The findings say that maternal obesity has little association with the development of autism in the child. However, they found a doubled risk for development of autism and Asperger's syndrome in the child if the father was obese, compared with a normal weight father. (But note, the odds are small: just under 0.3 percent of kids with obese dads were diagnosed with autism, versus 0.14 percent of kids with fathers at healthy weights.)
Doctors still don't know why a father's obesity could cause a higher rate of autism in his kids. There could be an indirect association with certain gene variations, or obese men might be more likely to have certain environmental exposures that contribute to autism. But there also might be a direct tie, like the extra weight might actually alter sperm quality, leading to malformations that would cause autism. More research needs to be done on the subject to find a definite cause and effect, but all signs point to the fact that both mom and dad's health contribute to whether you'll have a healthy baby. So if you're trying to get pregnant, set a standing date for a couple's workout!
TELL US: Are you surprised to hear that a dad's weight could raise his baby's autism risk?
Early Signs of Autism
Image of man's belly courtesy of Shutterstock.