Diabetes

Updated 28 February 2017

Low birth weight may increase type 2 diabetes risk

Black women, who often have low birth weight, have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

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Being born at a low birth weight puts black women at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.

The findings may partly explain high diabetes rates among black Americans, a population that has a high prevalence of low birth weight, the researchers added.

Their study of more than 21,000 black women found that those with a low birth weight were 13 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with a normal birth weight. The risk of diabetes was 40 percent higher in those with a very low birth weight.

Low birth weight defined

Low birth weight was defined as less than 5.5 pounds and very low birth weight as less than 3.3 pounds.

A woman's body weight did not appear to affect the link between low birth weight and increased diabetes risk. Those who weren't obese still had a higher risk of diabetes if they had a low or very low birth weight.

While the study found an association between birth weight and diabetes risk, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.

Read: Losing weight may delay kidney problems in diabetics

The researchers pointed to two possible reasons for the association: When a newborn body lacks nutrition, it reprogrammes itself so it can absorb more of what nutrition it does get and that could raise the risk for diabetes later in life; and certain gene mutations may affect the body's ability to make insulin, which would lead to a low birth weight and an increased chance for diabetes in adulthood.

The study was published in the journal Diabetes Care.

Importance of further research

"African-American women are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and also have higher rates of low birth weight than white women," Edward Ruiz-Narvaez, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, said in a university news release.

"Our study shows a clear relationship between birth weight and diabetes that highlights the importance of further research for this at-risk group," he added.

Read more:
Healthy living saves diabetics a fortune
Diabetes and other health problems
Difference in ethnic BMI may affect diabetes risk

Image: Stop diabetes from Shutterstock

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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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