Maternal Fatty Acid Status During Pregnancy and Child Autistic Traits: The Generation R Study

Am J Epidemiol. 2016 May 1;183(9):792-9. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwv263. Epub 2016 Apr 6.


ω-3 and ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are important for brain function and development. We examined whether maternal polyunsaturated fatty acid status during pregnancy affects risk of autistic traits in childhood. Within the Generation R cohort, we measured maternal plasma polyunsaturated fatty acid concentrations and the ω-3:ω-6 ratio in midpregnancy (Rotterdam, the Netherlands, 2001-2005). Child autistic traits at 6 years were assessed by using the Social Responsiveness Scale short form in 4,624 children. A lower maternal ω-3:ω-6 ratio during pregnancy was associated with more autistic traits in the offspring (β = -0.008, 95% confidence interval: -0.016, -0.001). In particular, a higher total ω-6 and linoleic acid status were associated with more autistic traits (all P's < 0.05). Associations were independent of child intelligence, suggesting that the fatty acid distribution specifically affects the development of autistic traits in addition to general neurodevelopment. Maternal plasma ω-3 status was not associated with child autistic traits and, consistently, neither was prenatal dietary fish intake. Our study shows that a lower prenatal ω-3:ω-6 ratio is associated with more child autistic traits, which is largely accounted for by higher ω-6 instead of lower ω-3 status. These results suggest a biological pathway between maternal fatty acid intake during pregnancy and autistic traits in the offspring.

Keywords: autistic traits; child; polyunsaturated fatty acids; pregnancy; ω-3:ω-6 fatty acid ratio.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Diet*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / blood*
  • Female
  • Fishes
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Netherlands
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6