Oklahoma Mental Health Care Expert: Don't Rush to Conclusion on Autism, Obesity Study

Article excerpt

A recent study suggesting a link between autism and maternal obesity has highlighted the ongoing struggle to secure insurance coverage for the former and improve lifestyles for the latter, Oklahoma mental health care experts said.

The study published this month by Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, opens the door to additional research into both areas that is badly needed. But local psychologist Susan Howard said the work also carries the risk of people simplifying conclusions and assigning blame for a complex problem.

The study, which has been widely disseminated in the news media, concludes on an indefinite note.

The findings raise concerns that these maternal conditions may be associated with neurodevelopmental problems in children and therefore could have serious public health implications, the study's authors wrote.

"Recall in the 1960s it was the 'refrigerator mother' contributing to autism, and it would be unfair today to say it's the 'obese mother' that is now causing autism," said Howard, who specializes in treating autism disorders at her private practice in Norman. "I have many mothers who come into my office, and medically and nutritionally have done 'everything right' and question what they did to cause their child to have autism. It is important for women not to misinterpret current research and blame themselves for their child having autism, as the research is not clear on all the multiple factors contributing to this increasing neurobiological disorder."

The term as the public generally understands it is an umbrella for a range of severe developmental disabilities that appear with the first few years of life, involving impairments in social interaction and communication. Some people with autism have limited interests, strange eating and sleeping behavior, or they do things to hurt themselves such as banging their heads, according to the American Psychological Association.

Autism has been a growing public concern as incidence of the disorder increases. According to a report this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the likelihood of an autism- spectrum disorder diagnosis rose more than 20 percent from 2006 to 2008. One child out of every 88 was diagnosed with an autism disorder in 2008, compared with one out of 110 two years earlier.

The U.S. government has responded accordingly with increased funding for research: The National Institutes of Health are now budgeted about $170 million a year for research. …