Recent evidence suggests that childhood obesity is increasing in children who are developing typically as well as in children with developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Impairments specific to autism as well as general environmental factors could lead to an imbalance between the intake and expenditure of energy, leading to obesity. In this article, we describe the mechanisms by which autism-specific impairments contribute to obesity. The evidence on exercise interventions to improve physical fitness, address obesity, and reduce autism-specific impairments in children and adolescents with ASDs is discussed. Limited evidence is currently available for exercise interventions in individuals with ASDs. Therefore, literature on other pediatric developmental disabilities and children who are developing typically was reviewed to provide recommendations for clinicians to assess physical activity levels, to promote physical fitness, and to reduce obesity in children and adolescents with ASDs. There is a clear need for further systematic research to develop sensitive assessment tools and holistic multisystem and multifactorial obesity interventions that accommodate the social communication, motor, and behavioral impairments of individuals with ASDs.
- Received April 28, 2013.
- Accepted February 10, 2014.
- © 2014 American Physical Therapy Association