ICYMI: another association ? causation case with labor induction & autism risk

If more voices joined in to explain the limitations of observational studies, maybe we could have a reverse Tinker Bell effect.  “Clap loud enough and Tinker Bell will come back to life!”  Maybe if we clap loud enough for those who explain the limitations of observational studies, we can kill unfounded headlines and stories about such research.

I was traveling when a paper in JAMA Pediatrics concluded: “Our work suggests that induction/augmentation during childbirth is associated with increased odds of autism diagnosis in childhood.”

On a Forbes blog, Emily Willingham wrote:

“The headlines linking labor induction and autism risk are splashy–aren’t they always with “autism linked to” stories? My favorite misstatement of the research is in this headline from Bloomberg: “Autism risk for children may be raised when labor induced,” as though the cause-and-effect association is established and inducing labor is The Factor that leads to the risk.

It could just as easily have read, “Labor induction risk may be raised when child is autistic.” Why? Because the study in question did not show a cause and effect between induced (initiated) or augmented (hastened) labor and autism. It found an increased odds that a child born following a labor induction and augmentation would later be labeled as autistic by special education services. Yet there are problems with reaching even that conclusion.”

You should read the rest of her post to get her complete takedown of the research.

On her blog, “Red Wine & AppleSauce: Health and Science News for Moms,” Tara Haelle wrote:

“before I dig into the study’s weak findings and myriad limitations, first consider that everything plus the kitchen sink has already been “linked” to autism (despite the strong genetic link for autism). Just a partial list includes air pollution, mom’s antibodies, mom’s depression, low birth weight, high birth weight, being born in the summertime, fertility drugs and living near a highway.”

Join the club.  Clap loudly for those who evaluate the evidence.


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