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Low Birth Weight May Be Linked to a Higher Type 2 Diabetes Risk in Adulthood

Aug 7, 2015

In addition to lifestyle, a new study suggests birthweight may play a role in a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes…

A recent Harvard study was published in BMJ involving nearly 150,000 men and women without diabetes at baseline who were followed for 20-30 years. Researchers prospectively looked at type 2 diabetes incidence, lifestyle risk factors and birth weight.

While much is known about the impact of lifestyle on type 2 diabetes incidence, most of the information about birth weight and diabetes is theory. Low birth weight has been associated with glucose intolerance and may be connected to metabolic adaptations made by a fetus in an environment with limited nutrients.

During follow-up, 11,709 new cases of type 2 diabetes were documented. Researchers looked at multiple variables and found adjusted relative risks for the measured variants. The two biggest factors associated with increased type 2 diabetes risk were low birth weight and unhealthy lifestyle.

Furthermore, the researchers suggest the obvious factor of change would be adoption of a healthier lifestyle. Nonetheless, the implications of improving prenatal and postnatal factors in preventing type 2 diabetes is noteworthy.

With more research to support the evidence, it may be worthwhile to educate people with low birth weight on their risks and the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle to lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In the scheme of things, we are looking at an additional way to address the prevention of type 2 diabetes for future generations.

Practice Pearls:

  • While much is known about lifestyle, research looking at multiple variables and their effect on increasing risk of type 2 diabetes is being conducted.
  • This study suggested both low birth weight and unhealthy lifestyle play a significant role in increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Addressing prenatal and postnatal factors for mothers may be an important area worth exploring.

Li, Yanping, Sylvia H Ley, Deirdre K Tobias, et al. “Birth Weight and Later Life Adherence to Unhealthy Lifestyles in Predicting Type 2 Diabetes: Prospective Cohort Study.” BMJ. (2015). Web. 31 July 2015.