Date of Conferral



Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)


Public Health


James E. Rohrer


The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is estimated to be one in every 150 births. While both genetic and postpartum environmental exposure have been linked to ASD, prenatal maternal weight has not been investigated. The objective of the study is to assess whether overweight or obesity at pregnancy is an important risk factor for the diagnosis of ASD in offspring. A case-control study was designed to answer this question using the public health ecosocial theory. The study population consisted of 70 mothers, who were recruited via the Internet using the viral expansion loop. Multiple logistic regression analysis was used to test the hypotheses. No significant difference in risk of ASD by level of body mass index (BMI) was found after adjusting for covariates. The odds ratio for obese women in comparison to normal or underweight women was 1.19, 95% CI [0.53, 2.66] after adjusting for covariates. Gaining the appropriate amount of weight during gestation, as determined by the Institute of Medicine, was not associated with ASD either, with the odds ratio at 0.67, 95% CI [0.31, 1.48]. The results indicate that BMI category at pregnancy and gestational weight gain were not risk factors for autism in children. The implications for positive social change include a better understanding of maternal prenatal BMI as a risk factor for autism spectrum disorder. Appropriate health information provided to mothers prenatally could result in improved birth outcomes.