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IAN WEIGHT AND HEIGHT QUESTIONNAIRE

Date Last Revised: 
June 6, 2014
Date Published: 
October 12, 2007

The IAN Weight and Height Questionnaire is now closed. Thank you to all who participated! To check out results, visit the IAN Data Explorer and download Weight and Height Questionnaire.

The IAN Project has collected an initial set of data, but there are many questions that remain to be explored. A variety of new questionnaires will be coming online over time. We would like to introduce the first of these: the IAN Weight and Height Questionnaire.

Why are we asking about your child's weight and height?

Many parents and clinicians have made the observation that children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) seem to differ from their peers when it comes to body size, but not everyone has made the same observation. Some suggest that children with an ASD are more likely to be small and skinny, 1,2,3   while others believe children with an ASD are more likely to be large and robust. 4   Still others suggest that body size may vary with the specific ASD diagnosis. In reality, it is unclear which of these statements, if any, is true. 

What is known about the size of children with an ASD?

Head Circumference

For years, it has been observed that many infants who are eventually diagnosed with autism experience accelerated head growth in their first year of life. 5,6   It has also been shown that head circumference tends to be large relative to height for individuals with autism compared to people in the general population. 7

Body Mass Index

Since 2000, several studies have been published looking at the Body Mass Index (BMI) of children with an ASD. BMI is a measure of size based upon both weight and height. Two of these studies, both of which were conducted in Germany, reached the same conclusion: boys with an ASD were more likely to have low BMIs compared to control populations. 8,9   A more recent study conducted here in the U.S. looked specifically at issues of childhood obesity. These researchers found that children with an ASD (both boys and girls) were just as likely as their peers to be overweight. 10   On the other hand, one study of adult outcomes in autism found that 42% of adults with ASD studied were obese compared to 23% of the general population. 11

It is clear that we are still unsure if or how, on average, children with an ASD differ in size from their peers.

Why is it important to find out if they actually do?

Why is body size an important topic to investigate?

There are at least two major reasons body size -- head circumference, weight, height, and BMI -- are important topics to investigate in autism. First of all, differences in any of these may help point the way to specific subtypes of autism. In addition, weight and BMI may also be related to the future health of individuals with ASDs.

Subtypes of Autism: A Path to Answers

Lack of social understanding, communication difficulties, and restricted and repetitive behaviors are core features of ASDs. These are similarities that characterize all of the people on the autism spectrum. Across that spectrum, however, might there be distinct subtypes of autism, each with a different genetic, environmental, or neurological picture, as well as a different presentation of specific symptoms, different potential treatments, and different possible outcomes? It is crucial to find out, as the better we are able to unravel these separate mysteries, the better we will be able to intervene.

Researchers have therefore been trying to identify meaningful subtypes of autism based on observable and measurable biological and behavioral traits. (We are not speaking here of our existing categories, such as Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, or PDD-NOS. We are speaking of meaningful categories that group people with ASDs in a new, biologically-based way.)

Body size is observable and measurable, so this is a simple, commonsense place to begin.

A paper recently published by an Italian research team, Clinical, Morphological, and Biochemical Correlates of Head Circumference in Autism, 12  is an excellent example of research tying a certain physical picture in ASD with other important characteristics. Studying 241 individuals with autism, ages 3 to 16, they found that head size tended to be large, as well as overall body size, and that those with the largest head size also tended to have more impaired adaptive behaviors, less impaired IQ, motor development, and verbal language, and a family history of allergic/immune disorders.

Future Health

If a significant number of children with autism are destined to struggle with being overweight, families and clinicians should be aware of it. It is known that weight-related problems during childhood often continue into adult life, and are associated with a number of serious health issues, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Americans, as a society, are already struggling with their weight. This may be even more the case for individuals with an ASD. They must often cope with additional, related issues such as food allergies or sensitivities, gastrointestinal problems, a narrow range of accepted foods, or medications with weight gain or loss as side-effects.

If obesity is part of the clinical picture in autism, families, clinicians, and service providers need to make addressing this part of their overall treatment plan.

The IAN Weight and Height Questionnaire

The IAN Project is now asking our participant families to provide weight and height measurements for all their children. Such measurements are fairly easy for parents to acquire, and the vast amount of data IAN can provide researchers on this topic will dwarf that collected in all previous investigations. Additional information families have shared or will share in the future -- such as data about diagnosis, behaviors, or GI problems -- will make it possible for researchers to seek out patterns and connections between the weight and height data parents provide and other aspects of autism.

Parents, time to get out those scales and tape measures!

Why are we not asking parents to measure head circumference? First of all, this is a much more difficult measurement to take accurately at home. Second of all, it is not necessary, as many previous studies have already shown accelerated head growth in autism.

Curious about the specific questions that will appear on the new questionnaire? Go to Weight and Height Questionnaire.

To actually respond to the questionnaire, log on to IAN Research. You will find a new Height and Weight Questionnaire task for each child in your family profile.

If you have any questions whatsoever, please contact us at researchteam@kennedykrieger.org. We are here to help.

Remember: one child's weight and height tells scientists very little, but the weight and height of thousands of children with ASD and their non-affected siblings, taken all together, may prove extremely useful to autism researchers.

The IAN Weight and Height Questionnaire is now closed. Thank you to all who participated! To check out results, visit the IAN Data Explorer and download Weight and Height Questionnaire.

References

  1. Sobanski, E., Marcus, A., Hennighausen, K., Hebebrand, J., & Schmidt, M.H. (1999). Further evidence for a low body weight in male children and adolescents with Asperger's disorder. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 8(4), 312-314.  View Abstract
  2. Bolte, S., Ozkara, N, & Poustka, F. (2001). Autism spectrum disorders and low body weight: Is there really a systematic association? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 31, 349-351.  View Abstract
  3. Mouridsen, S. E., Rich, B., & Isager, T. (2002). Body mass index in male and female children with infantile autism. Autism, 6(2),197-205.  View Abstract
  4. Sacco, R., Militerni, R., Frolli, A., Bravaccio, C., Gritti, A., Elia, M., Curatolo, P, Manzi, B., et al. (2007). Clinical, morphological, and biochemical correlates of head circumference in autism. Biological Psychiatry, 62, 1038-1047.  View Abstract
  5. Dementieva, Y.A., Vance, D.D., Donnelly, S.L., Elston, L.A., Wolpert, C.M., Ravan, S.A., DeLong, G.R., Abramson, R.K., Wright, H.H, & Cuccaro, M.L. (2005). Accelerated head growth in early development of individuals with autism. Pediatric Neurology, 32(2), 102-108.  View Abstract
  6. Mraz, K.D., Green, J., Dumont-Mathieu, T., Makin, S., & Fein, D. (2007). Correlates of head circumference growth in infants later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Child Neurology, 22(6), 700-713.  View Abstract
  7. Lainhart, J.E., Bigler, E.D., Bocian, M., Coon, H., Dinh, E., Dawson, G., Deutsch, C.K., Dunn, et al. (2006). Head circumference and height in autism: A study by the Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism. American Journal of Medical Genetics, Part A, 140(21), 2257-2274.  View Abstract
  8. Bolte, S., Ozkara, N, & Poustka, F. (2001). Autism spectrum disorders and low body weight: Is there really a systematic association? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 31, 349-351.   View Abstract
  9. Sobanski, E., Marcus, A., Hennighausen, K., Hebebrand, J., & Schmidt, M.H. (1999). Further evidence for a low body weight in male children and adolescents with Asperger's disorder. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 8(4), 312-314.  View Abstract
  10. Curtin, C., Bandini, L., Perrin, E.C., Tybor, D.J., & Must, A. (2005). Prevalence of overweight in children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorders: A chart review. BMC Pediatrics, 5(48).  View Abstract
  11. Eaves, L.C., & Ho, H.H. (2007). Young adult outcome of autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, e-published ahead of print, September 1, 2007.
  12. Sacco, R., Militerni, R., Frolli, A., Bravaccio, C., Gritti, A., Elia, M., Curatolo, P, Manzi, B., et al. (2007). Clinical, morphological, and biochemical correlates of head circumference in autism. Biological Psychiatry, 62, 1038-1047  View Abstract
     

 

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