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New Study Finds Skyrocketing Increase in Autism

Group says link to environmental factors shown, gov't should regulate toxic chemicals

- Common Dreams staff

A just released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that children diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) had a skyrocketing increase of 78% compared to results from a decade ago. The CDC report shows that one in 88 children are now diagnosed with the disorder.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) notes that "a burgeoning body of independent scientific research suggests that one factor that may be in play is environmental exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, most notably mercury," and sees the staggering figures as a call for governmental action to minimize children's exposure to toxic chemicals, especially coal plant caused mercury exposure. “Upending the federal government’s approach to regulating toxic chemicals and putting tough emissions standards in place at power plants are two good places to start,” said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook.(photo: hepingting)

The CDC conclusion that "ASDs continue to be an important public health concern" would be a challenge under the House Republican budget which would "cut federal spending on Medicaid — the single largest funding source of funding for autism support — by more than $800 billion below current projections over the next 10 years."

A 2011 Stanford University School of Medicine study found that 62 percent of autism risk was attributable to environmental factors.

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From the CDC report: Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network Surveillance Year 2008 Principal Investigators

Results: For 2008, the overall estimated prevalence of ASDs among the 14 ADDM sites was 11.3 per 1,000 (one in 88) children aged 8 years who were living in these communities during 2008. Overall ASD prevalence estimates varied widely across all sites (range: 4.8–21.2 per 1,000 children aged 8 years). ASD prevalence estimates also varied widely by sex and by racial/ethnic group. Approximately one in 54 boys and one in 252 girls living in the ADDM Network communities were identified as having ASDs. Comparison of 2008 findings with those for earlier surveillance years indicated an increase in estimated ASD prevalence of 23% when the 2008 data were compared with the data for 2006 (from 9.0 per 1,000 children aged 8 years in 2006 to 11.0 in 2008 for the 11 sites that provided data for both surveillance years) and an estimated increase of 78% when the 2008 data were compared with the data for 2002 (from 6.4 per 1,000 children aged 8 years in 2002 to 11.4 in 2008 for the 13 sites that provided data for both surveillance years). Because the ADDM Network sites do not make up a nationally representative sample, these combined prevalence estimates should not be generalized to the United States as a whole.

Interpretation: These data confirm that the estimated prevalence of ASDs identified in the ADDM network surveillance populations continues to increase. The extent to which these increases reflect better case ascertainment as a result of increases in awareness and access to services or true increases in prevalence of ASD symptoms is not known. ASDs continue to be an important public health concern in the United States, underscoring the need for continued resources to identify potential risk factors and to provide essential supports for persons with ASDs and their families.

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Environmental Working Group (EWG): Autism Rate Surges Among US Children

“These stunning new figures are a call to action among our elected leaders to minimize our children’s exposures to mercury and other toxic chemicals,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “These stunning new figures are a call to action among our elected leaders to minimize our children’s exposures to mercury and other toxic chemicals,” said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. “Nothing less than an all-hands-on-deck approach to this mounting epidemic is required by Congress, the President and industry.”

Though the cause of autism is yet not known, a burgeoning body of independent scientific research suggests that one factor that may be in play is environmental exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, most notably mercury, a common toxic byproduct at coal-fired power plants around the country.

“Upending the federal government’s approach to regulating toxic chemicals and putting tough emissions standards in place at power plants are two good places to start,” said Cook. The federal Toxic Substances Control Act has allowed the chemical industry to flood the marketplace with toxic chemicals, including neurotoxins, with virtually no proof they are safe for people.

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The Hill: Federal government estimates 1 in 88 children in the US has autism

"The data signal an impending crisis in America's safety net system for people with autism and related disorders."The report comes just as House Republicans prepare to approve a budget that would cut federal spending on Medicaid — the single largest funding source of funding for autism support — by more than $800 billion below current projections over the next 10 years. [...]

The Arc, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, warned against proposed cuts to federal healthcare spending.

"The data signal an impending crisis in America's safety net system for people with autism and related disorders," The Arc CEO Peter Berns said in a statement. "We may be facing a ‘perfect storm’ as the rapid rise in the prevalence of autism comes at the very same time Congress is proposing to cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the Medicaid program — the single largest funding source of services and support for autism — while slashing funding for public health programs."

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From July 2011: Stanford University School of Medicine: Non-genetic factors play surprisingly large role in determining autism, says study by group

2011 study found that genes account for 38 percent of autism risk, with environmental factors explaining the remaining 62 percent.A new Stanford University School of Medicine study of twins suggests that non-genetic factors play an unexpectedly large role in determining autism risk, turning upside down recent assumptions about the cause of this common, disabling developmental disorder.

From prior studies of shared autism in twins, scientists had estimated that 90 percent of autism risk was attributable to genes and only 10 percent to non-genetic environmental factors. But the new study — the largest ever of twins in which at least one in each pair has autism — shows almost the opposite: It found that genes account for 38 percent of autism risk, with environmental factors explaining the remaining 62 percent. [...]

The finding that autism risk is strongly influenced by environmental factors should alert scientists to the need to study risk factors they haven't been considering, the researchers said. [...]

And what might the unknown environmental risk factors be?

"That's the multimillion dollar question," Hallmayer said. "I think a lot about it." Autism's manifestation in very young children points to something that happens in early life, potentially even during pregnancy, he said.

"Our findings suggest that events during pregnancy should be a focus for future research into the origins of autism," said Lisa Croen, PhD, a co-author on the study. Croen is a senior research scientist and director of the Autism Research Program at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

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