Almost two decades into the twenty-first century, the state of children’s health in the U.S. could scarcely be more distressing. With many seemingly disparate health trends converging, over half of all children have at least one chronic condition. Obesity and autism are two of the conditions that have witnessed the most dramatic increases. The prevalence of obesity in infancy and childhood has more than tripled since the late 1970s, and a major national survey estimated the 2016 prevalence of diagnosed autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in 3- to 17-year-olds at one in 36, up from about one in 10,000 in the 1980s.
For most people, obesity and ASD appear to have little or nothing to do with one another, but research points to an intriguing crossover between the two. Specifically, children with ASD are more likely to be obese than children without autism, and obese children are disproportionately likely to have a neurodevelopmental disorder such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).