Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Parental obesity and autism risk in the child: Is paternal obesity a greater risk factor than maternal obesity?

Date:
April 7, 2014
Source:
Norwegian Institute of Public Health
Summary:
Several studies have looked at possible links between maternal obesity during pregnancy and the risk of developmental disorders in the child. However, paternal obesity could be a greater risk factor than maternal obesity, according to a new study.

Several studies have looked at possible links between maternal obesity during pregnancy and the risk of developmental disorders in the child. However, paternal obesity could be a greater risk factor than maternal obesity, according to a new study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

As the first researcher to study the role of paternal obesity in autism, Dr. Pĺl Surén emphasises that this is still a theory and requires much more research before scientists can discuss possible causal relationships.

"We have a long way to go. We must study genetic factors in the relationship between obesity and autism, as well as environmental factors associated with switching the genes on or off -- so-called epigenetic factors," he explains.

Surén and his fellow researchers used data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). The researchers studied questionnaire data from over 90,000 Norwegian children at three, five and seven years of age. The mothers had answered detailed questions about their own mental and physical health, and about their children. The fathers completed a questionnaire about their mental and physical health while their partner was pregnant. The researchers also collected data from the Norwegian Patient Registry and from studies of children who were referred for evaluation and treatment of possible autism or Asperger's syndrome. By the end of the follow-up period, the children were aged 4 to 13 years.

Surprising findings

419 children, approximately 0.45 per cent of the sample, had an autism spectrum diagnosis (ASD). This is slightly lower than in the general population (0.8 per cent) because it is difficult to diagnose autism among the youngest children.

In the sample, 22 per cent of the mothers and 43 per cent of the fathers were overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) of between 25 and 30. Approximately 10 per cent of mothers and fathers were obese, with a BMI of 30 or more.

The researchers found that maternal obesity had little association with the development of autism in the child. However, they found a doubled risk for development of autism and Asperger's syndrome in the child if the father was obese, compared with a normal weight father.

"We were very surprised by these findings because we expected that maternal obesity would be the main risk factor for the development of ASD. It means that we have had too much focus on the mother and too little on the father. This probably reflects the fact that we have given greater focus to conditions in pregnancy, such as the growth environment for the fetus in the womb than both environmental and genetic factors before conception," says Surén.

The researchers adjusted for variables that may also be associated with the development of autism in the child. In addition to adjusting for maternal obesity, they considered education, age, smoking, mental disorders, hormone therapy before pregnancy, use of folic acid, maternal diabetes , pre-eclampsia and the baby's weight at birth.

Risk genes

Surén believes that the finding about paternal obesity is sound. The researchers found that the risk remained unchanged when adjusted for sociodemographic and lifestyle factors.

"Our findings therefore suggest that there may be a genetic link between obesity in the father and the development of ASD in the child," says Surén.

He points out that genetic mutation may play a role in the development of both extreme obesity and autism. Researchers have shown, for example, that if a section of chromosome 16 is missing this can lead to morbid obesity or developmental disorders in children. Mutations may be a basis for the development of a number of complex syndromes and diseases.

Another explanation may lie in epigenetics. Epigenetic changes do not mean that the gene is altered, but that the gene is activated or inactivated as a result of environmental conditions. Switching a gene on or off at the wrong time and place can lead to adverse consequences for the individual and the epigenetic changes can be passed on to the next generation.

"We still know very little about how epigenetic changes in germ cells are affected by obesity or other environmental factors but animal experiments have shown that obese males have offspring with altered gene expression in early growth regulation," says Surén.

Further research

Researchers are still in the early stages of studying possible links between obesity in the father and the development of ASD in the child. The first study was recently published in the Pediatrics journal. The research paper is included in Surén's doctoral thesis and it was written with a large group of researchers from university and hospital environments in Norway, England and the USA.

"We have begun to sequence all genes to find mutations and we must do more epigenetic analysis. If there is a correlation between obesity and ASD, this is a risk factor where the incidence is increasing in the population. Further research is therefore of great importance to public health," says Surén.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Suren P, et al. Parental obesity and risk of autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 2014 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-3664

Cite This Page:

Norwegian Institute of Public Health. "Parental obesity and autism risk in the child: Is paternal obesity a greater risk factor than maternal obesity?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140407090401.htm>.
Norwegian Institute of Public Health. (2014, April 7). Parental obesity and autism risk in the child: Is paternal obesity a greater risk factor than maternal obesity?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140407090401.htm
Norwegian Institute of Public Health. "Parental obesity and autism risk in the child: Is paternal obesity a greater risk factor than maternal obesity?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140407090401.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Newsy (Sep. 1, 2014) — New research says if you condition yourself to eat healthy foods, eventually you'll crave them instead of junk food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) — Researchers say having a cup of coffee then taking a nap is more effective than a nap or coffee alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) — Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) — A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins