Children with Autism May Have a Higher Risk of Weight Gain

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Children with AutismAccording to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, children with autism have a higher risk of obesity, so much so that weight differences can be seen as early as in preschool.

Study author Alison Presmanes Hill suggests that life can get quite busy for these families since they already have to manage a young autistic child’s education and treatment needs. As a result, weight issues could be overlooked.

For the study, researchers measured and weighed more than 5,000 children between the ages of two and 17 years old who had autism spectrum disorder. They compared each child’s body mass index (BMI) to the expected range based on each child’s sex and age.

Children with a BMI level to or above the 95th percentile were categorized as obese. Children at or above the 85th percentile were categorized as overweight. Approximately 34% of autistic children were deemed overweight compared to 32% in the general population, and 18% of children with autism were obese compared to 17% of the general population.

The differences were more alarming for teenagers and kids in preschool. Teens with autism had a 26% greater risk of obesity compared to 20% of their peers who didn’t have autism. Kids between the ages of two and five who had autism were 16% more likely to be obese compared to 10% of their peers who didn’t have autism.

After collecting information on medical conditions and behavioral issues of these children, researchers found that as scores on scales of behavioral difficulties and sleep problems went up, so did the risk of obesity.

According to Texas pediatrician Dr. Sonia Monteiro, the differences in unhealthy weight status between children with autism spectrum disorder and developing children can be apparent as early as preschool age. She adds that contributing risk factors that can lead to weight gain include medication, a decreased amount of physical activity, and selective eating.

Dr. Glen Elliott, medical director of Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto, California, is not surprised by the findings: “I believe the observation that children and adolescents with (and without) autism have an alarming rate of obesity is well established,” says Dr. Elliott. “What remains less clear is what, exactly, one can do about weight problems.”

According to Elliot, some parents may find it is easier to introduce consistent physical activity into the lives of autistic children because routine activities, such as bike rides or daily walks, can eventually become self-sustaining.

However, it may not be enough when dealing with certain medications, such as atypical antipsychotics, which increase weight and promote fat cell growth in the abdominal area. One solution, according to Hill, is for healthcare providers to address weight issues earlier in life.

Source for Today’s Article:
Haelle, T., “Weight Gain a Challenge for Children With Autism: Study,” web site, November 3, 2015;