A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

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

Spring, 2018 | Number 2, Volume 32

Large waist in moms may significantly increase odds of autism in children

Mothers with large pre-pregnancy waist sizes may be significantly more likely to have children with autism compared to mothers with smaller waists, a new study reports. 

Previous studies investigating the association between maternal obesity and autism relied on body mass index (BMI). However, Geum Joon Cho, lead author of the new study, says, “BMI is based on weight and does not differentiate between fat mass and lean mass.” Waist circumference, in contrast, is an accurate measure of visceral fat, which is body fat within the abdominal cavity. High levels of visceral fat are associated with an increase in inflammatory cytokines, and intrauterine and fetal brain inflammation are believed to play a role in autism. 

Cho and colleagues reviewed data on 36,451 mothers who delivered a single live baby between 2007 and 2008 and underwent a National Health Screening Examination within one year of their pregnancy. Their children were followed through 2015, and 265 were diagnosed with autism. The researchers found that children born to mothers with a waist size of 80 centimeters (31.5 inches) or more before pregnancy had a 65 percent increase in the odds of having autism compared to children of mothers with smaller waists. 

Cho concludes, “The findings suggest the need for clinicians to monitor for maternal obesity, based on waist circumference, to minimize the risk of development of autism spectrum disorder in offspring.” He adds that future studies should focus on whether reducing mothers’ waist sizes before pregnancy could lower the risk of their children having autism.


Cho and colleagues presented their findings at ENDO 2018, the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in March 2018. Address: Geum Joon Cho, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Korea University Guro Hospital, Korea University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.