According to a recent report in the July-August issue of Academic Pediatrics, at least one in three children and adolescents with autism is overweight or obese.
Some of the physical characteristics associated with autistic children include larger heads and a greater height and weight than their peers. Research suggests that these differences are due to skeletal abnormalities. However, a number of other characteristics point to being overweight or obese. For example, many people with the disorder are picky eaters, avoid group sports and activities, and have parents who are overweight or obese.
This new study on the link between autism and weight is the largest of its kind. The researchers studied electronic medical records for 2,976 children between the ages of 2 and 20 with a diagnostic code for autism or Asperger syndrome. They then compared the data with that from 3,696 typically developing children in the same age range. All of the data included was taken from children who had both their height and weight measured during the same appointment.
By using this data to calculate a BMI for each child, the researchers were then able to compare the BMI of children with autism to that of typically developing children of the same gender and age. The study classified BMI percentiles above 85% as overweight and above 95% as obese.
This study found that 23% of the children with autism and 25% of the children with Asperger syndrome were obese, compared with the 16.9% of the controls. 15% of those with autism and 11% of those with Asperger syndrome were overweight.
Compared to the controls, the autistic children were 2.2 times more likely to be overweight and 4.8 times more likely to be obese. The children with Asperger syndrome were 1.5 times more likely to be overweight and 5.7 times more likely to be obese. These differences were apparent even in children aged 2 to 5 years. Although there is an undeniable correlation between autism and obesity, it remains unclear what exactly contributes to the trend.
However, the study did manage to discover some intriguing associations. Researchers found that children who received government assistance or didn’t have health insurance had a higher rate of obesity. There was also a higher rate among children that suffered from a sleep disorder. Hormonal and genetic differences between children with autism and typically developing children are other possible explanations.
For the time being, it’s important that doctors and parents of autistic children work to prevent obesity. Obese children can face many problems as they grow older, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Programs need to be created to address the problem while accommodating the needs of children with autism. Preventing obesity can drastically improve the quality of life for people with autism.
Author: Lauren Daniels