The objective of the study was to investigate the associations among maternal prepregnancy BMI, paternal BMI, and the risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in children.
The study sample of 92 909 children was derived from the population-based, prospective Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. The age range was 4.0 through 13.1 (mean 7.4) years. Relative risks of ASDs were estimated by odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) from logistic regression models.
At the end of follow-up on December 31, 2012, 419 children in the study sample had been diagnosed with ASDs: 162 with autistic disorder, 103 with Asperger disorder, and 154 with pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Maternal obesity (BMI ≥30) was only weakly associated with ASD risk, whereas paternal obesity was associated with an increased risk of autistic disorder and Asperger disorder. The risk of autistic disorder was 0.27% (25 of 9267) in children of obese fathers and 0.14% (59 of 41 603) in children of fathers with normal weight (BMI <25), generating an adjusted OR of 1.73 (95% CI: 1.07–2.82). For Asperger disorder, analyses were limited to children aged ≥7 years (n = 50 116). The risk was 0.38% (18 of 4761) in children of obese fathers and 0.18% (42 of 22 736) in children of normal-weight fathers, and the adjusted OR was 2.01 (95% CI: 1.13–3.57). No associations were found for pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.
Paternal obesity is an independent risk factor for ASDs in children. The associations should be investigated further in genetic and epigenetic studies.