Food and Behaviour Research

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Prevalence of autism in children of Somali origin living in Stockholm: brief report of an at-risk population

Barnevik-Olsson M, Gillberg C, Fernell E. (2010) Dev Med Child Neurol. 52(12) 1167-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2010.03812.x. Epub 2010 Oct 21. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here. Free full text of this article is available online


This work was a follow-up study (birth years 1999-2003) of the prevalence of autism in children of Somali background living in the county of Stockholm, Sweden.

In a previous study (birth years 1988-98), the prevalence of autism associated with learning disability* was found to be three to four times higher among Somali children compared with other ethnicities in Stockholm.

We examined all records of children of Somali background, born from 1999 to 2003, registered at the centre for schoolchildren with autism and learning disability. The census day was 31 December 2009.

The prevalence of autism and PDDNOS (with learning disability) was 0.98% (18/1836) in the Somali group and 0.21% (232/111555) in the group of children of non-Somali origin (p<0.001). The increased prevalence remained and was now between four and five times higher in children of Somali background. A clinical observation was that more than 80%, in addition to autism and learning disability, had a profound hyperactivity.

The findings accord with many other studies reporting higher prevalence rates of autism in children of immigrant mothers. We discuss the need for further research of underlying mechanisms.


To find unusually high rates of psychiatric disorder in the children of first-generation immigrants is not a new observation, and always has many potential explanations.

However, increasing evidence now supports the idea that Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy may 'prime' the offspring for neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and ADHD, and potential mechanisms for this have been well documented in animal studies.

In a separate study, these authors found significantly lower Vitamin D status in mothers of Somali versus Swedish origin. See:
For more information on Vitamin D and autism, see also: