Children on Autism Spectrum Significantly More Likely to be Obese by Age 5

Children with developmental delays/disorders or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) are more than 50% more likely to be overweight or obese by age five than the general population, according to a recent study. 

Using the Study to Explore Early Development, researchers compared children (age 2-5 years) with ASD (n = 668), with developmental delays/disorders (n = 914), and of the general population (controls, n = 884). The Ohio State University Global Severity Scale for Autism was used to measure ASD severity. 

The odds of overweight/obesity were 1.57 times (95% CI 1.24-2.00) greater in the autistic spectrum disorder cohort compared with the control group, and 1.38 times (95% CI 1.10-1.72) higher among children with developmental delays/disorders than the control group. When adjusting for child co-occurring conditions, children with ASD were still at an increased risk of being overweight/obese (ASD vs general population controls: adjusted odds ratio  = 1.51; 95% CI 1.14-2.00). Children with more severe ASD symptoms were 1.7 times (95% CI 1.1-2.8) as likely as those with mild ASD symptoms to be overweight/obese. 

The findings warrant further research to determine why children with ASD and developmental delays/disorders have a higher risk of being obese/overweight, said lead study author Susan E. Levy, MD, MPH, medical director of the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

“These findings make it clear that monitoring these children for excess weight gain at an early age is critical, and that prevention efforts should be expanded to include not just children with ASD, but those with other developmental diagnoses, as well,” Levy said. 

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SourcesThe Journal of Pediatrics,  Newswise