Researchers at the University of Utah have been trying to get to the bottom of what exactly leads to autism spectrum disorders. And according to Health Day News, it looks like they stumbled upon an unlikely link: pregnancy weight gain.
If you're reading this while pregnant and just put down your ice cream bowl, hold up a minute; the news doesn't mean you have to completely restrict your pregnancy cravings. (Though, yes, a steady diet of ice cream sundaes wouldn't exactly be a good thing.)
According to Dr. Deborah Bilder, a lead researcher and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the university, experts are looking into whether hormones, inflammation, and other factors interact with a baby's genetics in the womb and cause both pregnancy weight gain and autism.
"It provides clues that we can use to [home] in on more specific underlying issues," Bilder said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "It's just one piece of the puzzle."
While autism affects 1 to 2 percent of the U.S. population, that number is significantly higher than the national average in Utah, which is part of what led the university to explore the causes further. Also to the researchers' advantage was the fact that the state has been recording maternal weight gain since 1994, compared to the rest of the country, which only started recording this data around 2000.
The study, which still needs to be replicated on a broader scale, was published in the journal Pediatrics last week. Interestingly, though, it found no connection between a mother's pre-pregnancy weight/BMI and autism—a fact that actually contradicts previous studies.
Speaking with Health Day News, Dr. Andrew Adesman (chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York) said, "Although it is unclear why there is an increased incidence of autism born to mothers who gained more weight during their pregnancy, hopefully [this study] will provide yet another clue to aid researchers in their quest to better understand what causes autism."