The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative
By Sarah DeWeerdt
April 4, 2014
Three factors related to childbirth - preterm delivery, small size at birth and cesarean delivery, contribute to more than 10 percent of autism cases in the U.S., according to a study published in the April issue of Annals of Epidemiology.
Several studies have documented associations between autism and ‘perinatal’ risk factors — those occurring around the time of birth. For example, researchers have found that the risk of autism jumps up for babies born early or underweight compared with full-term, healthy-weight babies.
But simply showing a correlation leaves open the question of whether one causes the other.
The new study is the first to investigate the population-attributable fraction (PAF) for each risk factor. This statistic captures the proportion of autism cases that would not arise if a given risk factor were eliminated. An analysis of this sort does not prove that perinatal risk factors cause autism directly but represents a mathematically rigorous step forward...
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