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
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
"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
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. …