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Autism may be linked to obesity during pregnancy

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CHICAGO (AP) — Obesity during pregnancy may increase chances for having a child with autism, provocative new research suggests.

It’s among the first studies linking the two, and though it doesn’t prove obesity causes autism, the authors say their results raise public health concerns because of the high level of obesity in this country.

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Study women who were obese during pregnancy were about 67 percent more likely than normal-weight women to have autistic children. They also faced double the risk of having children with other developmental delays.

On average, women face a 1 in 88 chance of having a child with autism; the results suggest that obesity during pregnancy would increase that to a 1 in 53 chance, the authors said.

The study was released online Monday in Pediatrics.

Since more than one-third of U.S. women of child-bearing age are obese, the results are potentially worrisome and add yet another incentive for maintaining a normal weight, said researcher Paula Krakowiak, a study co-author and scientist at the University of California, Davis.

Previous research has linked obesity during pregnancy with stillbirths, preterm births and some birth defects.

Dr. Daniel Coury, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said the results “raise quite a concern.”

He noted that U.S. autism rates have increased along with obesity rates and said the research suggests that may be more than a coincidence.

More research is needed to confirm the results. But if mothers’ obesity is truly related to autism, it would be only one of many contributing factors, said Coury, who was not involved in the study.

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