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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Today in Your Health, we'll meet a woman who's opted for a new, quicker form of breast cancer treatment, a treatment some doctors worry is not as effective as traditional methods.

Let's go first, though, to a new study that suggests that women who are obese or diabetic during pregnancy are much more likely to have a child with autism. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: A team of researchers looked at about 1,000 mothers. Half had a child with an autism spectrum disorder. The rest had a child with a developmental delay unrelated to autism, or no developmental problems.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto from the University of California, Davis says the team wanted to know whether autism was more likely if a woman was obese, diabetic or had high blood pressure during pregnancy.

IRVA HERTZ-PICCIOTTO: We found that if women had one of these three conditions, the increased risk for her child was about 60 percent.

HAMILTON: Although the overall risk was still relatively small. These conditions also more than doubled the chance that a child would have some other developmental delay.

Picciotto, whose study appears in the journal Pediatrics, says it appears that obesity and diabetes are affecting early brain development. That could be because they tend to cause inflammation in developing tissues. But she says another possibility is that obesity and diabetes reduce the nutrients reaching the fetus.

HERTZ-PICCIOTTO: We're talking about a fetal brain that could be, in fact, suffering from hypoxia, which is the lack of oxygen.

HAMILTON: Picciotto says the findings are especially troubling because obesity and diabetes are on the rise, and so is the number of children diagnosed with autism. Government figures show that a third of women of child-bearing age are obese, and that one child in 88 now has an autism spectrum disorder.

Jon Hamilton, NPR News.

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