The prevalence of obesity in children with autism: a secondary data analysis using nationally representative data from the National Survey of Children's Health

BMC Pediatr. 2010 Feb 23;10:11. doi: 10.1186/1471-2431-10-11.


Background: The prevalence of childhood obesity has increased dramatically in the last two decades and numerous efforts to understand, intervene on, and prevent this significant threat to children's health are underway for many segments of the pediatric population. Understanding the prevalence of obesity in populations of children with developmental disorders is an important undertaking, as the factors that give rise to obesity may not be the same as for typically developing children, and because prevention and treatment efforts may need to be tailored to meet their needs and the needs of their families. The goal of the current study was to estimate the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents with autism.

Methods: This study was a secondary data analysis of cross-sectional nationally representative data collected by telephone interview of parents/guardians on 85,272 children ages 3-17 from the 2003-2004 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH). Autism was determined by response to the question, "Has a doctor or health professional ever told you that your child has autism?" Children and adolescents were classified as obese according to CDC guidelines for body mass index (BMI) for age and sex.

Results: The prevalence of obesity in children with autism was 30.4% compared to 23.6% of children without autism (p = .075). The unadjusted odds of obesity in children with autism was 1.42 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.00, 2.02, p = .052) compared to children without autism.

Conclusions: Based on US nationally representative data, children with autism have a prevalence of obesity at least as high as children overall. These findings suggest that additional research is warranted to understand better the factors that influence the development of obesity in this population of children.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology