Women who are obese or who suffer from diabetes are at a higher risk of giving birth to children autism or some other neurodevelopment disorder. Maternal obesity refers to obesity (often including being overweight) of a woman during pregnancy. Maternal obesity has a significant impact on maternal metabolism and offspring development. Modification of lifestyle is an effective intervention strategy for improvement of maternal metabolism and the prevention of adverse outcomes. Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater. A 5-foot-5-inch tall woman would be considered obese if she weighs 180 pounds or more and a 5-foot-8-inch tall woman would be considered obese if she weighs 200 pounds or more. Insulin resistance, glucose homeostasis, fat oxidation and amino acid synthesis are all disrupted by maternal obesity and contribute to adverse outcomes.
As mentioned before, maternal diabetes is linked to a higher risk of general development impairments in offspring. Diabetes mellitus is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. This high blood sugar produces the classical symptoms of polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (increased thirst) and polyphagia. A strong association is seen between maternal metabolic conditions (during pregnancy) and ASD (autism spectrum disorder) or developmental delays. Autism or autism spectrum disorder is a group of developmental brain disorders. The term ‘spectrum’ refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment, or disability, that children with ASD can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, but others are severely disabled. Symptoms of ASD vary from one child to the next, but in general include social impairment, communication difficulties and repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. Babies with ASD may seem different very early in their development.
A mother who is obese during pregnancy is 1.6 times as likely to give birth to a child with an ASD compared to mothers of typically normal weight. Obese mothers also double the risk of having a child with some other developmental disorder. The offspring of mothers who have diabetes score lower on language and communication tests, when compared to those whose mothers have no metabolic conditions. Metabolic conditions include obesity, diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure). All this raises serious health concerns as obesity rates have been rising steadily, and appear to be continuing to grow.