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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

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

Carol Curtin1*, Sarah E Anderson2, Aviva Must3 and Linda Bandini45

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Family Medicine & Community Health, University of Massachusetts Medical School-EK Shriver Center, 200 Trapelo Road, Waltham, MA 02452, USA

2 Division of Epidemiology, College of Public Health, The Ohio State University, B216 Starling Loving Hall, 320 West 10th Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA

3 Department of Public Health & Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, 136 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02111, USA

4 Department of Pediatrics, University of Massachusetts Medical School-EK Shriver Center, 200 Trapelo Road, Waltham, MA 02452, USA

5 Department of Health Sciences, College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences, Sargent College, Boston University, 635 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215, USA

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BMC Pediatrics 2010, 10:11  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-10-11

Published: 23 February 2010

Abstract

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 accordingto 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.