Maternal Obesity, Diabetes Linked To Autism; Is Jessica Simpson Putting Her Baby At Risk?

Children born to obese, hypertensive or diabetic mothers are 60% more likely to be autistic or have other developmental delays, according to a new study. This adds to a wealth of evidence linking maternal obesity with unhealthy or impaired children. Yet whenever the issue of pregnancy and weight gets attention—ahem, Jessica Simpson—everyone still acts like it’s mostly a matter of looks, or how it will affect post-pregnancy weight loss.

Deborah wrote here last week about how much of the criticism of Simpson’s ‘excessive’ pregnancy weight-gain (allegedly 40-50 pounds) has focused on the tired old trope of how (tsk tsk!) pregnant women shant be “letting themselves go.” And she’s right, it’s obnoxious. A lot of the media coverage has been fat-shaming, or just plain gawking, and who wants to endorse any of that?

But being overweight during pregnancy—or gaining too much weight while pregnant—can have some seriously negative outcomes for both pregnant women and their babies.

This new study (published in the journal Pediatrics) is far from the first study to say so: A study published last month found obese moms were more likely to have children with cognitive impairments. Other recent research has linked maternal obesity to birth defects, including spina bifida and limb deformities. An analysis of over a decade’s worth of births in New Jersey and Michigan found women who put on a lot of weight while pregnant were much more likely to have heavier kids at birth, who are likelier to become heavier kids and heavier adults. By putting on too many pounds, Simpson could be putting her baby-to-be at a higher risk for autism, cognitive problems and future obesity.

The drastic rise in cases of childhood autism—a few decades ago, fewer than one in 2,000 kids were born autistic; the CDC recently announced one out of every 88 American kids are—can largely be explained by a) the broadening of autism in the DSM to ‘autism spectrum disorder,’ which includes Asperger’s syndrome and other milder forms of the disease, and b) greater awareness/detection. But some of the rise can also be attributed to environmental factors, scientists say (though not MMR vaccines, despite what Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey claim). And the concurrent rise in obese adults in the U.S. and babies born with autism makes maternal obesity a convincing link, at least.

It’s not as simple as obesity ups the risk of autistic kids, though, said study co-author Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences at the University of California at Davis.

“It might be there’s some environmental factor that contributes both to the obesity epidemic and to the rise in autism cases. Or it could be the increase in obesity is, in fact, contributing to the increase in autism. But it’s certainly not going to account for all of it.”

Other factors during pregnancy—like poor nutrition, antidepressant use, or closely spaced pregnancies—are also linked to higher rates of autism. In Hertz-Picciotto’s study, it wasn’t just maternal obesity but also Type 2 or gestational diabetes and high blood pressure associated with development problems. (Of course, being overweight or gaining too much weight during pregnancy are two of several factors that can lead to diabetes and/or hypertension.)

“Any time a child is diagnosed with autism, the parents pour over everything that they were exposed to: what they ate; what they drank; when they were ill,” said Susan Hyman, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center. But “each of these contributors is very small,” and mothers should not feel guilty if they were obese during pregnancy, she notes.

Photo: Time

Share This Post:
    • Jennifer

      I thought you guys just said that people should leave Jessica Simpson alone about her weight and that she’s not fat she’s just pregnant. This is why you shouldn’t be fat.

      • Elizabeth Nolan Brown

        Sometimes we writers here disagree. That was the gist of Deborah’s general opinion, in the post I think you’re referring to.

        I agree with her that using Simpson to shame pregnant women for ‘letting themselves go’ is bad, but I think the discussion about the (maternal and fetal) health repercussions of gaining too much pregnancy weight is important.

      • Kristin

        I am with you, Jennifer. The headline alone just reeks of trolling for views, since Jessica Simpson is NOT an obese mom.

      • Avodah

        Agreed. I’m confused. Are we fat-shaming her or holding people accountable for their health?

        So confused. Help me, Briana and Elizabeth.

    • Prem

      Jessica Simpson is not obese you idiot, she’s gained weight while she’s pregnant. That is a very different thing,
      It is articles like these the perpetuate the difficulty for woman to live with their natural bodies.

      • Elizabeth Nolan Brown

        Being overweight pre-pregnancy AND gaining too much weight during pregnancy (as people are saying Simpson has) can both negatively affect fetal health.

    • BBT

      She was never overweight enough for it to be a problem. Jessica is shaped like regular women, not like stick-thin hollywood. She’s not fat, she’s certainly not obese.

      What a pathetic stupid thing to write.

    • Lindsay

      I don’t know. Yeah, she’s definitely put on weight with this pregnancy. I just wonder if people are comparing her to “regular” pregnant women or pregnant celebrity women. Jessica Simpson looks to have a curvy, womanly figure, especially when she gains a bit of weight. To Hollywood standards she looks bigger, but I think she is probably still smaller than many average women. Not everyone can be stick-thin before, during, and after pregnancy. When super skinny celebrity women are pregnant is there an outcry over how healthy that is or isn’t?

    • nena

      she’s borderline mentally retarded herself, so that doesn’t help anything in the gene pool. is this the guy who is ivy league, the ball player? wow.

    • The Mommy Psychologist

      I just want to point out that even though there is a link, it doesn’t mean there is a relationship. The studies you cited are all correlational. And as we learn in statistics, correlation does not equal causation. Just a word of caution when interpreting studies.

      “The child psychologist who thought she had all the answers to parenting until she became one herself.”

      • Elizabeth Nolan Brown


        “It might be there’s some environmental factor that contributes both to the obesity epidemic and to the rise in autism cases. Or it could be the increase in obesity is, in fact, contributing to the increase in autism. But it’s certainly not going to account for all of it.”

    • Monica

      I’m sorry, but this article makes me angry. No scientist would agree that a correlational link is convincing of anything. I mean, more women work outside of the home now than they did a few decades ago. Is this a convincing link for a potential cause for autism as well? Ridiculous. I see this as just one more example of the sensationalism and fear-mongering that surrounds autism research.

      Furthermore, who among us can decide how much is ‘too much’ weight for Jessica? Does she even have gestational diabetes? Every woman’s body is different and, for example, I gained 70lbs during pregnancy while following my doctor’s nutrition plan and did not contract gestational diabetes. Some bodies and some babies are just going to get big. To imply that Jessica is risking the health of her baby is and uninformed statement and unnecessarily judgmental.

    • dweej {House Unseen}

      And seriously, that is just a super unflattering dress and camera angle. 40-50 lbs? That is a completely normal amount of weight for a pregnant woman to gain, maybe not always according to “the literature” but definitely in real life. I’m guessing whomever wrote this has never been pregnant herself or she would understand how a 40-50 lb. weight gain during pregnancy does not mean the mother was, or will be, obese. I’m pregnant with baby #5, I always gain 40-50 lbs, and I always go back down to 120 a few months after baby is born. Sheesh. This whole discussion is SO silly….

    • Eileen

      Not to mention, she was pretty thin before. Underweight women are supposed to gain more during pregnancy than average or heavy women.

    • molly

      Jessica has said before that her stomach is so big because the doctor told her she has alot if fluids. I’m sure jessica follows doctors orders and the person that wrote this doesn’t know to much about her pregnancy and what the doctor and jessica know.

    • Give me a break

      (First and only reaction) What a superficial thing to write about. Jessica Simpson is not obese – I just think the author is looking for a way to tear another woman down to feel better about herself. As a someone with a masters in psychology – I can see right through that. Sorry Elizabeth, but fix the issues going on in your own life that is making you focus on such superficial drivel and tearing others down. Perhaps she makes too much money for someone that is slightly overweight and that bothers you? Go ahead and deny it, I’m sure you will :)

    • Lu

      Leave poor Jessica alone. She is a fuller figure woman to begin with; she isn’t rail thin like a lot of celebrities. She most likely will have to battle to get the weight off, but many many women do. She looks more the norm for her a woman her size. I know of 4 children on the autism spectrum. All have thin mothers, so, so much for that study.

      • Asia

        Do you not remember when she was skinny? She wasn’t always fat. If she represent the average American woman then American woman need to be more active and watch what they eat.

    • Kelly

      Shame on you, Elizabeth Nolan Brown for specifically targeting Jessica Simpson in this article. You are not her physician neither are you intimately involved with any of the particulars regarding her health or the health of her pregnancy. Under what authority do you feel it your job to judge her or any other woman? Yes, it’s important to inform women of the dangers of obesity, particularly on how their choices can and do affect their unborn children. However, to glamorize such information by using it to blatantly attack another human being, not only diminishes your character, but serves to minimize the importance of maintaining one’s health for your readers as well. This could have been a great and informative article, instead it’s written as if it should have been published in OK magazine.

    • Jennifer

      Some women gain more weight than others. I have always been a healthy weight, but gained a lot more weight (approximately (40- 50 lbs.) when pregnant than I ever expected. I ate well and exercised and had three healthy pregnancies, deliveries and babies. I agree, you need to stop this harassment of not just Jessica, but other women in this situation. We’re all different and this is the first article I have ever read linking autism to maternal obesity. I hope you will try harder on finding ways of preventing autism! Where are the statistics? I think gaining 40lbs. during preganancy describes a lot more healthy pregnancies than links to autism.

    • missk

      This article is good example culture’s obsession of women’s body image and why women have such horrible self esteem. Jessica Simpson is gaining a healthy weight for a pregnancy, sorry, if she looks like a “real” pregnant woman and not a malnourished, celebrity pregnancy!

      Linking her increasing pregnancy weight to autism is truly evil and insensitive to her – and to mom’s raising children with autism. You people need fucking lives, and should not be allowed to influence the masses with your warped lies!

      • kl

        well said!! this is horrible…obese she is not…

    • Toni O’Donnell

      I suffered from pregnancy diabeties. I exercised and ate very healthy before becoming pregnant. I began to feel ill very early in the pregnancy and threw up multiple times a day, was exhausted and despite having no appetite and having to force down some food my weight gain was enormous – most of it fluid – I looked like I was having triplets – I think a lot of people are talking through their hats!! Leave this woman alone!!

    • jjjj


    • Ah

      I was 9 lbs 7 oz when I was born and I’ve always been skinny and perfectly healthy.

    • Jaime

      This is just a shame but it is funny at the same time! Elizabeth who studied public communication and theater thinks she is a Dr. and knows what is best for pregnant women when she herself has never been pregnant! My wife gained 40 pound with each pregnancy at the encouragement of her Dr because they worked out a specific plan for her. Elizabeth doesnt know what Jessica and her Dr. decided for her, hell who knows maybe she is carrying multiples and just hasnt said so… Its people like you that single people out that make women insecure! I can only imagine how insecure you are in your personal life to knock others down without the education to back you up. You can find anything on the internet, doesnt mean its true! Are you personally conducting studies of autism with your medical degree? OH WAIT…..

    • Jess

      Leave her alone

      • betty

        Where were these critics when Kate Hudson gained 70 lbs. ? Enough already, let her enjoy her pregnancy as much as she can.

    • Lynne

      Jessica looks swollen with fluids not necessarily fat if you ask me. No matter what the doctor’s tell you about that 25 pound “ideal” weight gain, you simply don’t have control over your body when you’re pregnant. Sure some woman let loose. Personally I walked regularly, watched what I ate and I gained 2-3 pounds a month at the most but the last 2 mths I gained closed to 25, ending up with 46 pounds. I got it off in 7 mths with healthy eating and exercise.
      There are also studies about under weight pregnant woman and pregnancy. Hollywood can give you a lot to choose from. But I haven’t erady about Victoria Beckham or some of the other anorexic looking preggo celebs and their risks? Jennie McCarthy and Holly Robinson-Peete were normal size when pregnant but sadly have autistic kids. If it happens it happens whether your reasonable size or not.

      Sure there maybe studies about overweight babies turning into
      overweight adults but if you ask me it’s our diets of processed food and high reliance on high frutose corn syrup and what not doing the damage, not overweight pregnancies.

      Jessica is the rare celeb who’s not hiding and showing how a real woman looks when they are pregnant and now people are trying to put her down giving the greenlight for so many other celebs to keep up the celeb preg skinniness while others continue to “hide” so they are not shamed and told how horribly obese they are for gaining what seems to be the normal 40-50 pounds.

    • Belinda mcburney

      I can’t believe how obsessed the media is with Jessica Simpson size. She is perfect. She looks healthy and obviously glowing with anticipation of motherhood. I was huge in the front like Jessica I had a 9 pd 14 oz son and a 10 pd 6 oz son. Their father was 6 ’4″. They both grew up to be over 6 ft. I ate very healthy with both but gained 45 pounds. By the statements made in this article at least one should have been born with autism Please stop assuming and give us real science. Maybe it is what is in our food, now there is an exposé . Of course our media will not gi