A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Fall, 2019 | Number 4, Volume 33

High rate of obesity in ASD detected by meta-analysis

Children with ASD are significantly more likely to be obese than their neurotypical peers, according to a recent meta-analysis. 

In the research, Chanaka Kahathuduwa and colleagues analyzed data from multiple studies reporting the prevalence of overweight and/or obesity in children with ASD and matched groups of neurotypical children. The researchers report, “Among children with autism spectrum disorders, the prevalence of obesity was 22.2%. Children with ASD had a 41.1% greater risk of development of obesity.” 

They add, “Taken together, non-Caucasian race, increasing age, female sex, and living in the United States emerged as potential risk factors for overweight and/or obesity in children with ASD.” However, they note, “Caution is advised when interpreting these findings, because [the] findings… are only associational and not causal.” 

The researchers say many factors may contribute to weight problems in children with ASD. These include genetic effects; prenatal exposure to certain infections, medications, or toxins; maternal diabetes or obesity; intra-uterine growth retardation; and prematurity. In addition, they say, the restricted diets or physical limitations of many children with ASD, as well as treatment with anti-psychotic drugs (which promote weight gain), can play a role. 

Kahathuduwa comments, “Neurobehavioral abnormalities related to autism and, more importantly, our treatment decisions may contribute to excessive weight gain in children with autism. Clinicians as well as parents need to be made aware of this greater risk to prevent our children with autism from being victims of obesity and its devastating complications.”


“The risk of overweight and obesity in children with autism spectrum disorders: a systemic review and meta-analysis,” Chanaka N. Kahathuduwa, Blake D. West, Jessica Blume, Nagaraju Dharavath, Naima Moustaid-Moussa, and Ann Mastergeorge, Pediatric Obesity, 2019, 1-13. Address: Chanaka Kahathuduwa, Department of Laboratory Sciences and Primary Care, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, 3600N Garfield, Midland, TX 79705, [email protected]


 “Autism spectrum disorders linked with excess weight gain in children,” news release, Wiley News Room, October 9, 2019.