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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UAB Investigates Association between Obesity, Level of Physical Activity, and ASD

Compared with their peers who are developing typically, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience higher rates of overweight/obesity and physical inactivity, according to the literature reporting on small sample sizes and limited geographic areas. The purpose of a recent study, led by Ms. Kathryn Corvey, DrPH student and graduate research assistant in the department of health care organization and policy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was “to examine obesity, overweight, physical activity, and sedentary behavior among children and youth with and without ASD using nationally representative data and controlling for secondary conditions, including intellectual and learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delay, and other mental, physical, and medical conditions, as well as medication use.” Co-investigators were department colleague Dr. Julie K. Preskitt, assistant professor; and Dr. Kristi S. Menear, associate professor and chair in UAB’s department of human studies; along with UAB alumna Dr. Samantha S. Goldfarb, currently at Florida State University; and Dr. Nir Menachemi, formerly at UAB and currently at Indiana University.

[Photo: Ms. Kathryn Corvey]

Using data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health regarding 65,680 children ages 6-17 — 1,385 of whom had an ASD diagnosis — logistic regression was applied to approximate odds ratios, while adjusting for demographics as well as potential secondary conditions. An ASD diagnosis is linked to higher odds of obesity (odds ratio [OR] 1.76; confidence interval [CI] 1.27-2.43), but study results indicate that a diagnosis of ASD was not associated with obesity after adjustments were made for potential secondary conditions. Similarly, although individuals with moderate ASD (OR 0.58; CI 0.36-0.93) recounted lesser sedentary tendencies, the link between condition and behavior did not warrant significance after adjustments were made for the possibility of secondary conditions in addition to the use of medication. Overall outcomes suggest that no association exists between overweight or level of physical activity and a diagnosis of ASD.

Ms. Corvey concluded that “[t]hese findings suggest that ASD diagnosis is not significantly associated with obesity status after adjustment for possible secondary conditions and medication use. Decision makers, clinicians, and researchers developing interventions for children with ASDs should consider how secondary conditions may impact obesity and related activities.”

“Obesity, Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviors in Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder” was published online in October in Maternal and Child Health Journal.

Journal article: