HealthDay News — Pregnancy-related diabetes may increase the risk a child will develop autism, new research suggests.

The blood sugar disorder, known as gestational diabetes, was linked to a moderately increased risk for an autism spectrum disorder in a study of more than 320,000 U.S. children, said study researcher Anny Xiang, PhD, director of statistical research at Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

However, it was an “observational study” and cannot prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between gestational diabetes — which affects up to 9% of pregnant women in the United States — and autism.

“To provide perspective, this increased risk [of autism] seen with early gestational diabetes translated to around seven additional cases per 1,000 pregnancies over that seen with pregnancies that didn’t involve [gestational] diabetes,” Xiang said.

No increased risk of autism was associated with type 2 diabetes diagnosed before pregnancy, the study found.

For the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Xiang’s team followed more than 320,000 children born from 1995 through 2009 at Kaiser hospitals in Southern California. During roughly 5.5 years of follow-up, 3,388 children were diagnosed with autism.

The researchers determined that babies exposed to gestational diabetes by the 26th week of pregnancy had a 42% increased risk of developing some degree of autism compared with children not exposed to gestational diabetes. The finding held even after taking into account other factors that could affect risk, such as maternal age, education and weight, they said.


Xiang AH, et al. Association of Maternal Diabetes With Autism in Offspring. JAMA. 2015; 313(14):1425-1434.