According to study, teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be more likely to be obese and stay obese during adolescence than their peers without ASD. The findings appeared online Tuesday ahead of publication in Childhood Obesity.
"Children with developmental disabilities face unique challenges and are not always served by health interventions aimed at those without disorders such as ASD," said study author Aviva Must. Must is chair of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.
Using the nationally representative 2011-2012 National Survey of Children's Health, the team of researchers in the Healthy Weight Research Network (HWRN) examined data from a total of 43,777 children ages 10 to 17 with available report on weight, height, gender and ASD status. BMI-for-age was calculated using parent-reported height, weight, and age. Race and socioeconomic status were also collected from the data set. Must is also co-director of the HWRN.
According to Science Daily, as earlier research had indicated they would, the researchers found a higher prevalence of obesity in children ages 10 to 17 with ASD than in children without ASD (23.1 percent versus 14.1 percent). However, the prevalence of obesity was consistent between ages 10 to 17 among children with ASD while it decreased with age among non-ASD children.
Between ages 10 and 17, there was no significant increase in obesity prevalence among children with ASD (from 20.0 percent to 22.1 percent); among non-ASD children, however, obesity prevalence was cut in half (from 19.1 percent to 8.3 percent).
"What we found was that the disparity did increase with age over adolescence, but the underlying patterns were not as expected. The prevalence of obesity in the ASD group was high and remained so, while the prevalence in children without ASD declined over adolescence," Must said.
“Factors to consider with obesity in children with (autism spectrum disorder) are sensory sensitivity, the need for routine or sameness, behavioral rigidity, use of food as a reward, mealtime stress, and parental stress; any or all of these could contribute to obesity,” said co-author Linda Bandini, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Shriver Center.