Babies With Low Birth Weight More Likely to Develop Type 2 Diabetes Later in Life

Researchers at the Channing Laboratory in Boston have discovered that babies who are born with a low birth weight are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as they get older.

According to the February 16 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, 69,526 female nurses born between 1921 and 1946 were examined for the purposes of the study, which was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. The study began in 1976, and it was discovered that 2,123 of the 69,526 female nurses surveyed had developed type 2 diabetes. Women who weighed less than 5 pounds at birth were 1.83 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who weighed 7.1 to 8.5 pounds at birth. Additionally, they were twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as those who were 10 pounds at birth.

Women nurses who had a low birth weight and no parental history of diabetes were four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than the heaviest babies examined in this survey.

Doctors in Boston who examined the nurses’ medical histories feel that the primary cause of low birth weight is malnutrition that causes the unborn fetus to undergo metabolic changes that can leave the child vulnerable to type 2 diabetes, as well as coronary heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. The doctors also feel that a normal diet after birth is not a factor in offsetting the likelihood of these diseases.

The researchers also point out that the findings do not indicate a clear, cause-and-effect relationship between low birth weight and type 2 diabetes, but rather a speculation.

David Barker, MD, of the University of Southampton, points out, “If type 2 diabetes has fetal origins, then its primary prevention lies in protecting fetal development.” Barker also says that research aimed at better understanding of the links between fetal nutrition and adult disease is a “matter of urgency if we are to find solutions to the worldwide epidemic of type 2 diabetes.”

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