New research published in the July-August issue of the Journal of Academic Pediatrics shows that children as young as two years old are significantly more likely to be overweight or obese than typical children. Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children compared patient data of 2,075 children with autism, 901 with Asperger’s and 3,696 control non-ASD children. Height, weight, age, and sex were used to determine body mass index (BMI) and classify children as underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. Researchers calculated and compared the odds of overweight and obesity in the different groups, and then evaluated demographic and clinical characteristics associated with overweight and obesity in children with autism.
The results of the study indicated a staggering 23% of the children with autism and 25% of the children with Asperger’s were categorized as obese, compared to 6% of the control group, while a further 15% of the autistic children, 11% with Asperger’s, and 11% typical children were statistically overweight. This implies that autistic children may be up to three times more likely to develop obesity, a dangerous condition that puts them at further risk for other dangerous health conditions.
Deeper analysis of the data demonstrated that among study subjects on the autism spectrum, those with co-occurring sleep disorders, were older, and/or on public insurance were the most likely to be obese or overweight.
This study did not evaluate the activity levels of the children, their diets, or any genetic factors, but are in keeping with findings of a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year, which concluded that adolescents with autism are at the greatest risk for obesity. In order to draw any conclusions as to the cause of these drastically increased odds for developing obesity, further research will have to be done to study these factors along with social issues and the common practice of using food as a reward and incentive for good behavior. In the meantime, healthy diets and regular physical activity still provide all children with the best defense against overweight and obesity.