Understanding the Risk of Obesity in Autistic Individuals

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Obesity is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, but it’s especially problematic for those with autism because their brains are wired differently. Scientists have been tapping into the power of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study how autistic brains react to food cues and identify obesity-related neural circuits in order to develop nutritional interventions that could help reduce metabolic disorders associated with this developmental disorder.

Obesity in autistic individuals is a risk that has been overlooked. The chances of developing obesity are much higher in autistic individuals.


Calculate your weight in kilos by multiplying it by your height in meters. If the result is 30 or greater, you are obese according to the clinical criteria. Obesity is quite probable if you have autism.

Obesity affects many persons with autism. Frequently, the issue begins in infancy.

It becomes considerably more difficult to shed weight as the years pass and the body adapts. And gaining weight may lead to significant health issues such as Coronary artery disease and diabetes.

Is Obesity Common in Autism?

Obesity rates are growing across the board, but people with autism are more likely to be affected. Obesity is more common in people with autism than in their counterparts.

In 2019, researchers looked into this topic and observed that teenagers with autism were twice as likely as their neurotypical classmates to be fat. Obesity rates were broken down by group by the researchers:

  • 13.1 percent of individuals without impairments were obese.
  • Obesity was seen in 17.6% of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
  • Obesity was seen in 19.8% of persons with intellectual disabilities.
  • Obesity was seen in 20.4 percent of individuals with any behavioral development disorder.
  • Obesity was seen in 31.8 percent of persons with autism.

Hormonal abnormalities in some persons with autism contribute to their weight problems. This makes it simpler for individuals to acquire weight and more difficult for them to lose it.

Children with autism aren’t the only ones who suffer from obesity. According to studies, one out of every six American youngsters is fat. This disorder may lead to long-term health issues.

Obesity’s Dangers

Obesity presents with various risks for everyone, including autistic individuals. Obesity’s Dangers include the following:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes type 2
  • An increase in blood pressure
  • LDL cholesterol levels are high.
  • Apnea (sleep deprivation)
  • Stroke and other vascular problems are common.
  • Hepatitis is a disease of the liver.
  • Several forms of cancer exist.
  • Depression and other mental illnesses
  • Gallbladder disease is a disease of the gallbladder.
  • Body pain
  • Mobility is restricted.
  • Life quality has deteriorated

Obesity, on the whole, exacerbates the majority of health issues. Obesity increases the risks and symptoms of any preexisting diseases a person may have.

Obesity has been linked to a higher risk of mortality. Obesity-related issues may have a significant influence on life expectancy.

Obese people are more likely to be on medicine for obesity-related conditions including diabetes, asthma, or pain. They may encounter negative effects from these drugs, especially if they are used for an extended period of time.

Obesity has also been linked to a worse quality of life. It causes mobility issues, increased bodily discomfort, and poor mental wellness. The stigma attached to fat people in society also has an impact. Obese persons often suffer from despair, anxiety, and loneliness as a result of their weight.

If a person has autism, these challenges become much more challenging. They may be dealing with social challenges as a result of their developmental disability. The mental health effects may be complicated when this is exacerbated by problems relating to their weight.

What Causes Obesity in Children with Autism?

It’s not simple to untangle the link between autism and weight. Many diverse elements, according to experts, collide to modify a child’s weight, and this frequently occurs early in life. Some kids have many play difficulties, while others only have one or two.

Obesity in children is linked to a number of conditions, including:

  • Co-occurring circumstances are when two or more things happen at the same time. Other medical conditions that affect metabolism are common in people with autism, such as endocrine diseases and gastrointestinal illnesses. These medical issues may alter the way food passes through the digestive system, the way calories are metabolized, or both. Either way, you could gain weight.
  • The weight of the parents In one study, researchers discovered that mothers of overweight autistic children had a BMI of 26.05. Mothers of autistic children who were not overweight had a BMI of 24.7. Obesity might be caused by genetics in both moms and children, or it could be due to family eating habits.
  • Parents’ educational attainment. Researchers discovered that parents with low education levels were more likely to have overweight autistic children than those with a higher degree of education in a separate study. Perhaps superior food preparation methods result from higher learning, or perhaps parents with more education have better employment, live in nicer communities, and have more food alternatives to provide their children.
  • The severity of autism. According to studies, the more severe the autistic symptoms are, the greater the chance of obesity. It’s unknown why these two data points cross, and further research is needed to figure it out.
  • The usage of medication. To deal with impatience, self-injury, or aggressiveness, many persons with autism use antipsychotic or mood-stabilizing drugs. Weight gain is a side effect of several of these medicines. Alternative drugs might sometimes help to alleviate this issue.
  • Sleep deprivation. Long-term sleeplessness might change your metabolism and cause you to gain weight. Many individuals with autism have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or doing both at the same time. Their tossing and turning might impede their metabolism and cause them to acquire weight.

How Can Obesity Be Addressed?

Look through the list of risk factors to determine if there are any that you can change. Perhaps blackout curtains are required in your child’s room in order for him or her to have a better night’s sleep. However, a person with autism may need a solution that extends beyond redecorating.

To help someone with autism who is obese, do the following:

  • Going to the doctor. To exclude out metabolic diseases, request testing. Check to see if any of your child’s drugs are contributing to the issue. Describe everything strange you observe, including an insatiable appetite. Your doctor may devise a treatment plan to alleviate obesity-related problems.
  • I’m looking for a recommendation. Some physicians are hesitant to treat obese patients. Bring in another specialist, such as a dietician, if you don’t obtain the information you need from your child’s doctor. Don’t be hesitant to speak out for your kid.
  • Working with a therapist. Changes in routine may be quite stressful for some persons with autism. They are unable to embrace new diet patterns or workout routines without assistance. A counselor may assist in the implementation of healthy practices into a person’s life without generating further pain or suffering.

Changes You Can Make With Your Entire Family

While researchers uncovered a link between autism and obesity, many studies suggested that obese autistic children grew up with parents and peers who also weighed a bit too much. Health risks, such as diabetes or Coronary artery disease, aren’t exclusive to people with autism. Everyone carrying too much weight could experience lasting harm.

Encourage everyone in your family to adopt healthy lifestyle adjustments, such as:

  • Making a very unique dessert. Don’t eat ice cream or cake on a daily basis. Make Fridays your treat night, and avoid sweets the rest of the week. As you try to avoid sweets with added sugars, appreciate the natural sweetness of fresh fruit.
  • Keep an eye on your servings. Make an investment in the right-sized dishes, bowls, and cups. Super-sizing is a thing of the past. Encourage everyone to have a teaspoon of each of the following: vegetable, protein, and carbohydrate. Seconds of vegetables or proteins are permitted, but carbohydrates must be treated as such.
  • At the table, eat. Make your food stand out. As you eat, make eye contact with one another and relish each mouthful. During mealtimes, turn off the television or radio. Encourage family members to take things slowly and savor each piece of food.
  • Make a food plan. Decide when meals and snacks will be served, and don’t allow snacking in between meals. As required, use visual signals, such as “No food” signs, to reinforce that message. While the first week or two on a new meal schedule may be difficult, the whole family will eventually adapt.

Find methods to replace unhealthy family favorites with healthier alternatives. People with autism don’t usually take these dietary adjustments graciously, but it is doable with little preparation and discussion. Make an effort to:

  • One mouthful will entice you. Expect a person with food allergies to consume just a little portion of anything new. At each meal, request one mouthful of a different food.
  • Encourage others to assist you. Solicit assistance with meal preparation from the individual. People with autism are sometimes more willing to try meals that they have produced, cooked, or both.
  • Take advantage of stews and salads. These dishes are a terrific way to include a lot of vegetables into your diet. When a new meal is placed among old favorites, acceptance is more probable. Make sure you’re upfront and honest about what you’ve included. No one enjoys being duped.
  • Inquire about comments. To learn about new cuisines, ask the individual to explain them to you. Request one good and one negative word. You can see tendencies that will assist you in selecting an unknown favorite for your next supper.

Exercise may also help you lose weight, and you don’t have to work up a sweat to see effects. After dinner, go outside and toss a ball or pick some flowers. Instead of using the vacuum, sweep the floor. Instead of going up and down the steps once, do it twice.

Regular exercise may also assist with some of the other impairments that come with autism, such as weak motor skills or balance and coordination deficits. You’ll notice gains in these areas if you frequently include sports and fitness into your child’s life. When you add a little exercise to your day, the benefits soon mount up.

Remember to keep in touch with your child’s doctor. If you’ve done all of these techniques and the scale numbers still aren’t moving, get assistance. Obesity is a significant issue, and it’s vital to remain involved until a solution is found.


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Why Is Obesity Such a Serious Problem for Children With Autism? (February of this year). The Autism Research Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study of autism

Overweight and obesity have negative health consequences. The CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Autism and developmental delays make children about 50% more likely to be overweight or obese. (Updated in October 2018). Science Daily is a news site dedicated to science.

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The “hyperphagia autism” is a risk that many autistic individuals are at high risk of. It is important to understand the risks in order to help those at risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some of the influences or risk factors for autism?

A: The main risk factors for autism are genetics, environment, and neurodevelopmental delay. Some other possible risk factors for autism include prenatal exposure to alcohol or other drugs, premature birth (before 37 weeks), low gestational age at birth (>32 wks.), infantile seizures or febrile convulsions before 4 months of age).

What factors influence a persons risk for obesity?

A: Nutrition and physical activity levels, genetic risk factors, family history of obesity.

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