Obesity in young children with autism spectrum disorders: prevalence and associated factors

Child Obes. 2013 Apr;9(2):125-31. doi: 10.1089/chi.2012.0028. Epub 2013 Mar 13.


Background: The purpose of this study was to identify rates of overweight and obesity in young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and factors related to overweight.

Methods: Retrospective chart reviews were conducted for 273 children with ASD [i.e., autistic disorder, Asperger's disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)] after receiving outpatient services with a developmental pediatrician or the developmental team at a children's hospital. Information on child demographics, height and weight, medications prescribed, and adaptive functioning was collected from charts.

Results: Rates of overweight and obesity in children with ASD were found to be above nationally representative prevalence estimates for children. Among children with autistic disorder, 17.16% had a body mass index (BMI) percentile in the overweight range and 21.89% had a BMI percentile in the obese range. For children with Asperger's disorder/PDD-NOS, 12.50% were considered overweight and 10.58% were considered obese. Neither psychotropic medications prescribed nor adaptive functioning was found to be related to whether the child was overweight or obese.

Conclusions: Children with ASD are at risk for overweight and obesity, and children with autistic disorder are at greater risk for weight problems than children with Asperger's disorder/PDD-NOS. Further research is needed to identify factors related to overweight in children with ASD.

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / complications*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / epidemiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Exercise* / psychology
  • Feeding Behavior* / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Thinness
  • United States / epidemiology