The Effect of Age on the Prevalence of Obesity among US Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Child Obes. 2017 Feb;13(1):25-35. doi: 10.1089/chi.2016.0079. Epub 2016 Oct 5.


Background: We sought to assess the association between age and the prevalence of obesity among children with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children's Health.

Methods: Analyses were restricted to 43,777 children, ages 10-17, with valid measures of parent-reported weight, height, and ASD status. Exploratory analyses describe the impact of sex, race/ethnicity, and household income on the relationship between age and obesity in ASD.

Results: Although the overall prevalence of obesity among children with ASD was significantly (p < 0.001) higher than among children without ASD (23.1% vs. 14.1%, 95% confidence interval for difference 3.6 to 14.4), child age significantly (p = 0.035) modified this difference. In a multivariable logistic regression analysis, adjusted for sex, race/ethnicity, and household income, the odds of obesity among children with ASD compared with children without ASD increased monotonically from ages 10 to 17 years. This pattern arose due to a consistently high prevalence of obesity among children with ASD and a decline in prevalence with advancing age among children without ASD. These findings were replicated using a propensity score analysis. Exploratory analyses suggested that the age-related change in obesity disparity between children with and without ASD may be further modified by sex, race/ethnicity, and household income.

Conclusions: The patterns of prevalence observed with increasing age among children with and without ASD were unexpected. A better understanding of the etiological and maintenance factors for obesity in youth with ASD is needed to develop interventions tailored to the specific needs of these children.

Keywords: disability; epidemiology; health disparities; obesity; racial/ethnic disparities.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / complications*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Sex Factors