The rate of children with autism spectrum disorder has more than doubled since 2000. While many of those children take medications to control their symptoms, those medicines often cause considerable weight gain.
That can leave parents torn over how best to treat their children. But a new study is giving parents new options.
It's been 10 years since the FDA first started approving medications to help treat irritability in children with autism.
So far, two drugs have been approved - both sharing similar side effects.
"One of the issues we face with the medicines is that they cause, they can cause, intense craving for food," says Dr. Michael Aman with the OSU Wexner Medical Center.
That's likely contributing to a troubling trend. Teens with autism are 30 percent more likely to be obese than those without it, and preschoolers are 60 percent more likely to be obese.
So, Dr. Aman came up with a possible solution.
In a new study, he gave one group of children with autism a placebo and another a drug normally used to control type 2 diabetes, Metformin. It's a type 2 diabetes drug that controls blood sugar and suppresses appetite.
Using the drug Metformin, children lost an average of 6 pounds and their BMI was considerably lower and their waists were smaller.
"The tendency for the two groups to differ in a way became visible after about 8 weeks and became greater and more visible between 8 weeks and 16 weeks," Dr. Aman says.
Doctors say medications to help control the mood of children with autism are often prescribed as early as age 5.
Without something to offset the appetite that comes with them, some patients could face decades of dealing with weight problems
"Although none of us likes to use more medicines than is absolutely necessary, in this case it's a good resolution," Dr. Aman says.
Doctors say other benefits of Metformin are that it's been around for decades, is proven to be safe, and in this study caused only mild or no side effects in children.
The other group of children in the study who took a placebo showed no weight loss and no change in their BMI.