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Risk of autism linked with birth weight

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Risk of autism linked with birth weight

A study led by researchers from the University of Manchester, reveals new findings on autism. There seems to be a connection between autism and baby’s weight, in other words babies who grow above average in the womb or babies with poor fetal growth have a higher risk of developing this condition. This is the first large study conducted on 40,000 child health records showing that there is a clear connection between the risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder and baby weight. The study also comes to confirm the results of other research that has shown that premature babies and those with low birth weight are more likely to develop autism.

Autism is disease that affects behavior and interactions with others. Statistics show that in the UK 1 in 100 children has autism. Although there is no cure for autism, there are therapies that improve the manifestations of this disorder. Nobody knows exactly what causes autism, but it is believed that both genetic factors and environmental factors contribute to autism onset.

Professor Kathryn Abel, from the University’s Centre for Women’s Mental Health and Institute of Brain, Behaviour and Mental Health, said that the processes that cause ASD probably start during fetal life and that the signs announcing this disease occur in the first 3 years of life. She explained that fetal growth is influenced by both genetic and non-genetic factors. She added that it is important to understand in detail the factors that modulate fetal growth in order to find the cure for ASD.

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The data necessary for the study were taken from the Youth Cohort Stockholm in Sweden (repeated measurements of weight baby during pregnancy). Birth, motor, social, cognitive and language skills of the children were clinically evaluated. Of the cohort which contained records of 589,114 children aged 0-17 in Sweden (between 2001 and 2007), it was found that 4,283 young people had autism.

Researchers have found that children who had more than 4.5 kg at birth had a higher risk of developing autism, as well as those with low birth weight (less than 2.5 kg). It seems that, compared with babies normally grown babies, babies with poor fetal growth have a  63% higher risk of developing autism. Also, babies who grow above average  have a 60% risk of developing autism compared to those with normal weight at birth. “We now need more research into fetal growth, how it is controlled by the placenta and how this affects how the brain develops. One of the key areas to research is maternal condition and healthy growth,” said Professor Abel.