Objective: To compare parent-reported prevalence of health conditions and health care use between children with and without autism.
Design: Cross-sectional analysis of the 2003 to 2004 National Survey of Children's Health.
Setting: Population-based sample across the United States.
Participants: More than 100 000 parents. The main exposure was "autism" (not further defined), from response to the question: "Has a doctor or health professional ever told you that your child has autism?"
Main outcome measures: Medical and mental health conditions and measures of health care use.
Results: Autism prevalence among children aged 3 to 17 years was 53 per 10 000 (95% confidence interval, 45-61 per 10,000), equating to a national estimate of 324 000 children (95% confidence interval, 274,000-375,000 children). Children with autism had a significantly (P<.001) higher prevalence of depression or anxiety problems (38.9% vs 4.2%) and behavioral or conduct problems (58.9% vs 5.2%) than children without autism. Respiratory, food, and skin allergies were reported by parents more often for children with autism, with food allergies having the strongest relative difference between the groups (odds ratio, 4.5; 95% confidence interval, 3.0-7.0). Children with autism had significantly (P<.001) higher mean physician visits over 12 months for preventive care, nonemergency care, and hospital emergency care, and were far more likely than children without autism to receive physical, occupational, or speech therapy (76.0% vs 6.3%), to need treatment or counseling for an emotional, developmental, or behavioral problem (75.4% vs 7.0%), and, among those taking a prescribed medication, to be using a medication long-term (51.4% vs 14.5%).
Conclusion: We found markedly higher reports of concurrent conditions and health care use associated with childhood autism in this study.