Don’t Give Puppies as Christmas Gifts

The Downside of Pets as Gifts

Dr. Michael Omidi is an advocate for children’s health and animal welfare. In this post, he looks at the perennial problem of unwanted “gift pets” and praises several organizations that are working to remedy the situation.

Unfortunately, even after years of work by established organizations like the ASPCA, many people still give puppies and kittens as Christmas gifts. Even newer, smaller organizations like Pet Rescue warn against the practice. For some reason, thousands of people continue to put bows on puppies and kittens each year at holiday time.

The crux of the matter is that pets require a major time commitment and careful planning if they are to be properly incorporated into a household. Experts suggest that future pet owners make a care plan for their prospective family additions. What’s more, everyone should keep in mind that it is wisest to adopt dogs and cats from reputable shelters rather than unlicensed or amateur breeders.

Dr. Michael Omidi talks pets as gifts

Pets should never be a surprise

Animal welfare organizations old and new advise against giving dogs and cats as gifts. Pet Rescue, a small nonprofit based in Florida, devotes a long discussion to the topic on its website. Giant entities like the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) is another expert source that lobbies against the entire pets-as-gifts trend.

Why should you never give a pet as a surprise gift to anyone, especially a child and particularly at Christmas? Here are just a few of the reasons offered up by veterinarians, shelter managers and animal advocates:

  1. Pets as surprises are unplanned and typically suffer bad fates

Surprising someone with a fluffy kitten or squirming puppy on Christmas morning is a romantic but terrible idea. Parents and children both need to be committed to long-term care of the animal. Better to take your child along with you to an animal shelter and select a dog or cat the right way, and then make a careful plan about its care.

  1. Gift pets encourage unlicensed breeders to make quick profits

Every gift puppy or Christmas kitten encourages black market, amateur breeders to continue their harmful practices. This is how diseased and poorly-bred animals get into the general population. The cure: when you want a pet, head to a local, licensed animal shelter.

  1. Winter is the worst time to bring a new pet into your home

Aside from the fact that freezing weather is tough on small animals, the holiday season is not a time when children have spare time to attend to pet care. If you want to give your child a pet, do so during the summer months when school is out. That way, the kids will have plenty of time to learn about the right ways to raise and care for animals.

Mismanagement of dog populations can cause significant health dangers, especially in poor nations where rabies is a common problem. I dealt with the topic in a recent post about wild dogs in third-world nations.

Wishing you and your family a happy holiday season,

Dr. Michael Omidi

The Omidi brothers, Michael Omidi and Julian Omidi, are philanthropists who support numerous charitable and public health causes, including animal welfare. The Omidis are co-founders of Animal Support, a charity that works to eliminate animal abuse and mistreatment.

Ecotherapy: The Health Benefits of Nature

Dr. Omidi talks getting back to nature

Dr. Michael Omidi is a proponent of holistic treatment. Here he discusses the health benefits of nature.

As our world gets more mechanized and man-made, many feel a need to return to nature. This is an innate desire and a growing body of research demonstrates that interacting with nature is good for our health.

It’s no secret that humans have an affinity for nature. We bring flowers and other plants indoors to feel closer to the natural order of things. This holiday season, many of us will be bringing entire trees into our homes as a symbol of life persisting through the bitter cold. Have you ever considered that doing this may be good for your health?

Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku

People in Japan have realized the health benefits of the outdoors for a long time. Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, was developed in Japan during the 1980s. This practice requires those participating to engage with nature. People are encouraged to use all five senses to be fully immersed in their natural environment.

The health benefits have been measured in one study, which was conducted across 24 Japanese forests. The Shinrin-yoku study revealed that when people walk through wooded areas, levels of the stress hormone cortisol dropped nearly 16 percent more than when they walked in a cityscape. After 15 minutes, participants showed a decrease in blood pressure.

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits comes from inhaling phytoncides. These chemicals are emitted by plants and trees. Women who spent two to four hours in nature for two consecutive days saw almost a 40 percent increase in the activity of cancer-fighting white blood cells, in one study.

Some studies have suggested that you don’t even need to enter a forest to receive some health benefits. Just looking at green spaces helps reduce blood pressure and muscle tension. You could do that from your home or office window.

If you don’t have a forest nearby, try to make a weekend trip. You can bring live plants into your home or office, too. Plants produce oxygen, clean the air and ease the mind. All that from solar power, too! Go outside or bring the outside in. You may be surprised with the results.

Your fellow nature lover,

Dr. Michael Omidi

Dr. Michael Omidi and his brother Julian Omidi are co-founders of several charities, including Animal Support. They are doing what they can to preserve nature for future generations.

IMPACT Program Aims to Defeat Childhood Obesity

Michael Omidi talks child exercise

Battling obesity in children through fun

In today’s blog, Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the San Diego exercise program IMPACT, and how it helps prevent childhood obesity. Along with his brother, Julian Omidi, Michael supports efforts that improve the health of the community and educate citizens about selfless service.

In the fight against childhood obesity, fun and engaging physical activities are the most important weapons we have, according to experts in the field. Recently, Julian Omidi discussed the relationship between obesity and health. Today we’ll take a look at a very special program for schoolchildren and find out why it is so successful.

With more schools cutting funding and time for activities like recess and physical education courses, it is difficult for children to get the exercise they need. The San Diego Unified School District has instituted a program called IMPACT (Increasing Movement and Physical Activity in Class Time) to stop the obesity epidemic in its tracks.

The program was developed to promote healthy activity and to battle the ever-growing epidemic of childhood obesity. The San Diego Unified School District recognized the risks children face when they are not given an opportunity to take part in physical activity during the school day, and board members decided to do something about it.

Monkey bars and plenty of stretching

In order to make their vision a reality, school district leaders partnered with the UC San Diego Athletics department, as well as the UC San Diego School of Medicine Center for Community Health. Then, student athlete volunteers set up a series of activity areas, including jump-rope stations, monkey bars and stretching zones. Students rotate through each station as the volunteer athletes cheer them on and offer encouragement. Every activity is designed to be a fun and healthy way to get the kids up and moving.

“The IMPACT program was created to help students reach fitness standards at schools that otherwise would not have funding to maintain certain physical education programs,” said Kate McDevitt, senior manager of School Wellness Programs at UC San Diego’s Center for Community Health.

Students and faculty love the program’s fun approach to fitness

The program was first introduced at Edison Elementary in City Heights last spring. Since then, it has been well-received by both students and faculty. “The kids love it,” said Peggy Lewis, principal of Toler Elementary. “They need activity during the day. We have already seen improved student focus and concentration as a result of the program.”

Given the success of the program, and the dedication and enthusiasm of those running IMPACT, no one was surprised to see it expand to other schools.

Physical exercise helps children maintain healthy weight, and encourages an active lifestyle as they grow up. The work of IMPACT and its founders is deserving of commendation, and it’s my sincere hope that it expands nationwide.

Thank you for taking time to learn about this exciting new program.

Sincerely,

Michael Omidi

Michael Omidi, M.D., writes about current trends and issues in the areas of childhood obesity, health and poverty. For more information, visit www.childrensobesityfund.org.

Killing Wolves Might Not Reduce Livestock Deaths

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the killing of wolves to protect livestock

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the killing of wolves to protect livestock and how a prominent researcher found that the practice might be doing more harm than good.

In areas of the country where farms and ranches are prevalent, the killing of wolves to protect livestock is seen as a vital form of protection.

Shooting wolves that prey on cattle and sheep has long been believed to be the surest way to reduce the threat. Some states even allow wolf hunting seasons to reduce their numbers.

For several years, wolves have been seen as a growing concern for farmers and ranchers. In 2011, wolves were removed from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in several states, including Idaho, Montana and Utah. Since wolves were removed from protection, there has been a dramatic increase in wolf hunting, especially in Idaho and Montana. The latter has even allowed recreational hunting.

But a study performed by Washington State University ecologist Rob Wielgus presents strong evidence to suggest that killing wolves may actually increase the risks of livestock being attacked and killed.

This is not the first time Wielgus has changed the public perception on predator control. In 2008 he released a study that found shooting cougars actually led to more attacks on livestock. His research found that when mature adults were killed, the less-experienced adolescents were left to fend for themselves and were more likely to target cows and sheep.

Wielgus’ study found similar results in regard to wolf attacks. His data shows that when a wolf was killed, the chances of livestock getting killed increased the next year in that state. As more wolves were killed, the chances continued to increase without stopping, until more than a quarter of the wolves in the state had been killed in a single year. Only then did the livestock losses decline.

Protecting animals of all kinds from needless cruelty and harm has been a longtime passion of both myself and my brother, Julian Omidi. The findings of this study, while not giving a definitive reason for the correlation between livestock and wolf deaths, provides evidence that the killing of these tight-knit wolf families is doing more harm than good.

The ecologist believes pack behavioral changes due to the killing of the wolves are to blame. Wolf packs are led by a male and female breeding pair. If one or both of these pack leaders are killed, the pack can splinter into several new smaller packs. This may lead to several new breeding pairs, creating an increase in the wolf population. This would explain why the livestock losses only decline when the wolves have been killed to the point of being unable to keep up with reproducing.

This study will no doubt shed new light onto the practice of hunting wolves as a means of protecting livestock. While killing wolves to protect other animals may sometimes be a necessity, the study shows that as a practice, it’s counterproductive and unsustainable.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Michael Omidi

If you’d like to learn more about how you can help our animal friends, visit the site of the Omidi brothers charity Animal Support.

Richard Nares – Founder of The Emilio Nares Foundation

emilio_nares_foundation

Dr. Michael Omidi spotlights Richard Nares, the founder of The Emilio Nares Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing free transport for childhood cancer victims in Southern California.

While a diagnosis of cancer is devastating for anyone, childhood cancer might be the most heartbreaking of all.  For parents of children who have received this distressful news, the implications and obligations might be more than what they can reasonably bear in their emotionally bereft state.  Moreover, cancer is no respecter of financial situations; families who were already struggling financially might be pushed into poverty by the incredible economic strain.  Fortunately for many stricken Southern California families, Richard Nares and the Emilio Nares Foundation can help children diagnosed with cancer by taking them to their treatment centers.[1]

The Emilio Nares Foundation began as a resource for families of children with cancer who weren’t able to afford transportation to hospitals.  Many parents – single parents in particular – find themselves unable to juggle work obligations with the needs of their sick children, so they have to essentially leave their jobs.  Furthermore, parents who rely upon public transportation might not be able to take their kids on busses or trains due to possible spread of infection.  Mr. Nares’ foundation offers scheduled rides from children’s homes to different treatment centers in Southern California.

Mr. Nares knows firsthand the heartbreak of having a child with cancer.  In 1998, his own son Emilio (for whom the foundation was named) was diagnosed with leukemia.  The Nares family had a large network of family and friends who were able to offer help and transportation, as well as understanding employers who allowed flexible working hours.  Nevertheless, after a valiant two-year fight, Emilio died, leaving his family seeking to fill a very large void in their lives.  As a way of honoring his son, Mr. Nares asked Emilio’s treatment facility, Rady Children’s Hospital, how he could help.  Transportation was what was needed, the administrators told him.

Mr. Nares’ situation wasn’t the norm; many families do not have the kind of support system that the Nares family had.  Many parents do not have the kind of jobs that allow paid family leave.  Others cannot speak English, and struggle to understand the specific treatment instructions.  The Emilio Nares Foundation not only provides transportation, but also offers translation services as well as consultations on insurance and legal issues, and bereavement counselling.

Since 2000, the Emilio Nares Foundation has offered tens of thousands of rides to treatment facilities, helping to ease some of the tremendous burden from the families.  The foundation has grown in order to begin to meet the needs of the population, and now has a small network of drivers making the rounds.  The foundation offers transportation to approximately 40 families per week.

At Civic Duty, we are constantly impressed by the efforts of regular people to help their fellow citizens, and Richard Nares is a wonderful example of how an extraordinary person can turn a tragedy into a valuable community service.  We applaud Mr. Nares’ work, and we hope that the Emilio Nares Foundation can continue its great work for as long as we have to endure the ravages of childhood cancer.

By Michael Omidi



[1] Torgan, Allie: Grieving dad helps kids get to chemo CNN.com 11/13/2013 http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/02/health/cnnheroes-nares-cancer-rides/index.html?iid=article_sidebar

Animal Rights for Particular “Human” Smart Species of Animals

smart_animals

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the issue of “Nonhuman Legal Personhood” for certain species of animals.

In spite of our personal philosophies regarding the rights of animals, animal cruelty is an issue that affects us all.  Even those of us who don’t care a whit about animal suffering have to admit that animal cruelty can negatively impact our lives.  If livestock animals are treated improperly, the population is in danger of being fed dangerous food products; pets that are abused and/or neglected can pose a threat to their surrounding neighborhoods.

Clearly, there must be regulations that govern our treatment of animals for the sake of the animals themselves and society as a whole, but what is the best method of ensuring healthy treatment of animals, both in the wild and in the human population: Animal welfare laws or legal nonhuman personhood? [1] What is the difference, anyway?

Laws regarding animal welfare vary from state to state, although there is the Animal Welfare Act, which deals with the care and treatment of animals that are used for research, commerce and exhibition.  State laws dictate the treatment of animals on a more specific level, and deal with the human effect on animals rather than promise individual rights and privileges to said animals.

As methods of sale and care of animals evolve, so must the various laws address new concerns and potential cruelties.  However, unfortunately, many of these laws lack the strength to be real deterrents, and many animal rights proponents are lobbying for more substantial protective measures for animal victims of unnecessary abuses.

There are some in the animal welfare advocacy community who suggest the extension of “personhood” rights to animals is not only a just solution to animal abuses, but is also legally sound.  Limited legal nonhuman personhood would, in effect, grant certain animals (great apes, whales, dolphins and domestic companion animals) certain legal rights, namely the right to live, not be used for testing or research or exploited for purposes of entertainment.  The animals that would acquire nonhuman personhood status would be the animals that have been deemed as being highly intelligent (by human standards, of course).  However, personhood legal rights imply that those upon whom these rights have been granted are capable of recognizing or even understanding them, which animals are not.  Moreover, livestock animals would be exempt from personhood rights, since they are a necessary for food and labor, even though pigs (it has been argued) are highly intelligent.

Ultimately, the legal nonhuman personhood argument is a strategy for strengthening animal welfare laws, but in the most convoluted way imaginable.  Obviously, animals wouldn’t be able to recognize if their personhood rights have been violated, nor would they be able to take legal measures to address the problem if they had.  Humans, whether using personhood rights statutes or animal welfare policies, would have to confront violators of animal health and safety on behalf of the animals.

The only real benefit to personhood rights would be the increased punishment of violators, and that is something that could be achieved via stronger animal welfare laws.  Would our attitudes towards animal cruelty change significantly if legal ramifications were couched in different terminology?  The real pressing issue is the respect for the health and safety of animals, something that we need to address without wasting time and resources getting into protracted linguistic and legal debates.

By Michael Omidi



[1] Gonchar, Michael: Should Certain Animals Have Some of the Same Legal Rights As People? New York Times 4/29/2014 http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/should-certain-animals-have-some-of-the-same-legal-rights-as-people/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Civic Duty Spotlight: Vednita Carter Founder of Breaking Free

Vednita_Carter

Dr. Michael Omidi spotlights Vednita Carter, founder of the organization Breaking Free, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women and girls escape a life of prostitution. 

While we may think of many things when we think of Minnesota – blistering cold, picturesque lakes and the Minnesota Vikings, to name but a few – we don’t tend to regard it as a hub of sex trafficking.

However, Minnesota is on the FBI list of 13 largest child sex trafficking centers in the nation.  While the average age of entry into prostitution is between 12 and 14 years, it is not uncommon for these girls to be treated as criminals, even though the federal age of consent is 18 years, and the individual states’ age of consent is generally not younger than 16 years (with variations given depending upon circumstances).

Vednita Carter, founder of the nonprofit organization Breaking Free and a former prostitute herself, is working tirelessly to help these young girls escape a life that all but guarantees danger and despair.[1]

When Ms. Carter was 18 years old, she was shuttled into a life of prostitution through economic deprivation and the influence of an ex-boyfriend.  For more than a year she was mired in a highly exploitative and dangerous life, but through the help of a friend she was able to extricate herself, and eventually begin Breaking Free in 1996.

Before Breaking Free, Minnesota had WHISPER (Women Hurt in Systems of Prostitution Engaged in Revolt), which dismantled shortly before the foundation of Breaking Free.  Because Ms. Carter worked closely with WHISPER as its director of human services, she was able to fill the void left by WHISPER’s demise and continue its necessary work.

Breaking Free is one of the few organizations dedicated to giving women a way out of prostitution through direct intervention, job training, counselling and even transitional housing.  Moreover, Breaking Free will intervene on behalf of victims of sex trafficking in order to prevent criminal charges from being brought against them.

Not only do Ms. Carter and Breaking Free aid women and girls who want to escape prostitution, Ms. Carter also sponsors seminars and lectures geared towards men who seek the services of prostitutes in order to decrease the demand.  The courses outline the realities of prostitution, and let the men know, in unvarnished terms, their role in perpetuating the phenomenon.  According to data from the Offenders Prostitution Program, or “The John School,” as it is commonly called, the recidivism rate amongst men who attend the classes is only 2 percent.

We at Civic Duty are inspired by the dedication of Ms. Carter and her landmark organization.  If we are going to put an end to sex trafficking we have to confront it head on, and stop believing that is isn’t a problem that affects everyone, regardless of socio-economic status.  Breaking Free is doing fantastic work, and we hope that it will continue to offer a resource to these victims for as long as it is necessary.

By Michael Omidi



[1] Toner, Kathleen: Helping Women Escape ‘The Life’ CNN.com 3/14/2014 http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/13/us/cnnheroes-carter/index.html

Prescribed Antidepressant Culture in Our Nation’s Youth

depressed_teen

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the trend and the downside of giving young people antidepressants before they’ve had a chance to live fully realized, adult lives.

Depression is a difficult emotional disorder to manage, mainly due to the degrees in which it can strike.  Unlike psychosis, schizophrenia or post traumatic stress disorder, depression can be successfully treated either with or without drug therapy, but the signs of recurrence can be very subtle, and stem either from natural life changes and stresses or from chemical triggers.

Since many of us are now living in what can be described as an economically unstable environment, how can those of use who suffer from clinical depression but who are also trying to wean ourselves off of drug therapy tell the difference between a potentially dangerous episode and the natural reaction to difficult life circumstances?[1]

Because it is commonplace for young adults, teenagers and even children to be prescribed anti depressant drugs, many patients have never developed their full emotional maturity without being affected by drug therapy.  Although medications have certainly helped many young people negotiate their illnesses in healthy ways, no one wants to be dependent upon mood-altering drugs for the duration of their lives – we want to be happy, healthy and highly functioning naturally, if possible.

When patients want to begin to manage their depression without the aid of prescription medications, they find it difficult to enter into a relatively stable period of life first.  It is this overall stability that provides a solid foundation for deciphering normal from abnormal emotional reactions. But if they’ve never had an adult emotional response without being under the influence of medications, how do they know what is normal and what isn’t?  Moreover, since the stress of being economically unstable is, for many post-college graduates, ever-present, when will they ever enjoy a measure of security?

Our culture has increasingly embraced pharmaceutical solutions to relatively common emotional problems.  Although clinical depression is very real and very dangerous, it is also true that many young people who are depressed are actively accelerating their depression through the over consumption of alcohol and the use of recreational drugs.  It is also very possible that these young people are addressing their emotional frailties through the administration of easily accessible mood-enhancing substances, but what if their depression was in some way triggered by these habits?  If these factors are persistently ignored, the likelihood of stability through medication is slim.

Once again, it does not serve anyone to arbitrarily abandon their anti-depressants; anyone who does could be sacrificing their ability to function in a healthy and productive manner.  However, we need to begin to rethink our therapeutic prerogatives a bit when we abjure counselling in favor of drug therapy.  We cannot cure what we do not know exists, and we cannot expect people to cope in a healthy way in the face of major personal difficulties.

Even the most emotionally healthy among us experience sadness, anger and mood fluctuations, and when external difficulties present themselves, it is perfectly normal to feel distress.  We must learn to help our young people to manage normal and moderate degrees of emotional discomfort through therapy before turning to medications if we are going to avoid a nation of people eternally in thrall to the pharmaceutical industry.

By Michael Omidi



[1] Iarovici, Doris: The Antidepressant Generation New York Times 4/17/2014 http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/17/the-antidepressant-generation/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Mind&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body

Copenhagen Zoo Euthanize More Healthy Animals

lions

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the latest series of healthy animals that were euthanized by the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark.

Even though the Copenhagen Zoo certainly didn’t need any more bad publicity, it has nonetheless decided to euthanize a family of lions in order to incorporate a new male lion into the population without fear of compromising genetic purity.  The Zoo received a major backlash in February for euthanizing a healthy giraffe known as Marius.[1]

The healthy giraffe, informally called Marius, was a popular attraction at the Copenhagen Zoo.  The zoo officials decided to euthanize Marius when it received word that it would be introducing a new giraffe into the population for breeding purposes, and that there would be no room for Marius as a result.

Rather than allow one of the many other interested zoos that did have room to have Marius transferred over to them, the Copenhagen Zoo decided to euthanize Marius, butcher him in front of a crowd, and feed him to the lions.  Zoo officials argued that doing so was for the educational benefit of the observers, many of them students from various local schools.

Ironically, the lions that fed upon Marius are the same lions that were euthanized.  The lions were a 14 year old female, a 16 year old male and their two cubs.  According to representatives from the zoo, the cubs were in danger of being preyed upon by the new lion, and the new dynamic would have caused the older male lion to view his own offspring as suitable mates, thereby creating inbred offspring.

European zoo protocol is very different from practices embraced in the United States. In Europe, zoo animals are not sterilized; the animals are simply put down rather than risk the possibility of inbred offspring.  Zoologists argue that euthanasia, rather than contraception, is the more efficient means of preserving genetically desirable animals, and that sentimentality rather than science could result in an abundance of inbred zoo animals.

It is very interesting that science and nature are the first arguments that zoo officials turn to when it comes to making decisions about zoo animals’ genetic desirability.  None of the zoo animals are fit to be returned to the wild; every one of them will spend the remainder of their lives either on display for a paying public or at a protected animal sanctuary where their environment is wholly controlled.

If the idea is that these animals are to be kept as nature intended, then it is supremely ironic that it makes absolutely no difference in terms of the global wild animal population.  Furthermore, how does systematically butchering a giraffe and feeding it directly to a population of captive lions educate anyone on wild animal behavior?

All in all, the argument about the scientific rationality in euthanizing healthy animals in order to protect the gene pool is what magicians call a plausible diversion: The part of the trick that keeps the audiences’ eyes away from where the switch is being pulled.  The zoos’ main concern is revenue; they want a robust population of captive animals, they want them to behave as closely as they would in the wild in order to keep patrons happy and they don’t want the expense of dealing with animals that are inconvenient.  If we aren’t comfortable with the reality of zoos’ operations, then maybe we shouldn’t fund their practices by visiting them.

By Michael Omidi



[1] Bilefsky, Dan: Danish Zoo, Reviled in the Death of a Giraffe, Kills 4 Lions 3/26/2014 New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/27/world/europe/lion-killing-at-danish-zoo-provokes-fresh-outrage.html?_r=0

Obese Father’s May Be Linked to a Child’s Risk for Autism Disorders

FatDad and Son

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses a new study about how paternal obesity was strongly associated with an increased risk for autism disorders in children.

In the May issue of Pediatrics, Pal Suren, MD, MPH, and his colleagues of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo wrote that children of obese fathers had an increased risk for developing autistic disorder and Asperger disorder, and the risk grew with increasing body mass index (BMI). [1]

The risk of autistic disorder was 0.27% in children with obese fathers compared to 0.14% in children whose fathers were not overweight or obese.

For the risk of Asperger disorder, 0.38% for the children with obese fathers and 0.18% in children with normal-weight fathers.

These results differ from a 2012 study that found mothers who were obese before pregnancy had a 67% increase in having children with autism spectrum disorders. [2]

“We had thought that maternal obesity may somehow be related to autism, but this is the first time anyone has looked at paternal weight, and the findings suggest we may have gotten it wrong,” commented Andrew Adesman, MD, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in Lake Success, N.Y.

Adesman, who was not involved in the study, pointed out that it is not clear from either of the studies if obesity plays a role in autism. Even if future studies did show cause, the impact of parental obesity on autism spectrum disorders is likely to be small.

“Most of the children with autism in this study were not born to obese fathers and most of the children born to obese fathers did not develop autism,” said Adesman. “The risk increased (for autistic disorder) from 15 per 10,000 cases (children with normal weight fathers) to 25 in 10,000 (children with obese dads), which is still very, very low.”

The study used a population study that included a sample of close to 93,000 children (mean age being 7.4) in Norway derived from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.  At the end of the follow-up in December 2012, autism spectrum disorders had been diagnosed in 419 of the children, which specifically was 162 cases of autistic disorder, 103 or Asperger disorder, and 154 of pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified.

Among those cases, 43% had been clinically assessed through the Autism Birth Cohort Study while 57% had autism spectrum disorder diagnose confirmed by a specialist.

The results are not definitive, and even the researchers wrote “The potential effects should be further investigated through attempts at replication of our analysis, and, if these are positive, through genetic and epigenetic studies. It should also be explored whether paternal overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk of other neurodevelopmental disorders in children.”

By Michael Omidi

 

Sources:

[1] Stenberg N, Identifying children with autism spectrum disorder at 18 months in a general population sample. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24547686

[2] Paula Krakowiak, Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/04/04/peds.2011-2583.abstract

http://www.medpagetoday.com/Neurology/Autism/45127