Low Birth Weight, Higher Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes Link Found in African American Women

It’s the first large scale study to examine this specific correlation.

A new study published in, Diabetes Care, found that African American women who are born with a low birth weight may be at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. And a much higher risk at that.

Women with low birth weight had a 13 percent higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes than those with normal birth weight, and those with very low birth weight had a 40 percent higher chance of developing the disease.

These findings are especially important for a number of reasons, most notably because it could help explain, in part, why there’s a higher occurrence of type 2 diabetes in African American populations, which notoriously has a high prevalence of low birth weight. There have been previous studies that have demonstrated that characteristics such as birth weight can have a major impact on adult health, but this is the first large-scale study to demonstrate this effect in an African American population specifically.

According to the report:

Researchers from Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center followed more than 21,000 women enrolled in the Black Women’s Health Study over the course of 16 years, analyzing characteristics such as birth weight, current age, family history of diabetes, body mass index, physical activity and socioeconomic status.

The study results indicate that women with low birth weight had a 13 percent higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes than those with normal birth weight, and those with very low birth weight had a 40 percent higher chance of developing the disease. Low birth weight was defined as less than 2.5 kg, and very low birth weight as less than 1.5 kg. It appeared that body size did not play a role in this relationship as there was a clear association between birth weight and diabetes even for women who were not obese.

“African American women are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and also have higher rates of low birth weight than white women,” said Edward Ruiz-Narváez, assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health. “Our study shows a clear relationship between birth weight and diabetes that highlights the importance of further research for this at-risk group.”

The researchers have two hypotheses for this phenomenon. The first is known as the “thrifty phenotype hypothesis,” which states “once the newborn body perceives that it lacks nutrition, it reprograms itself to absorb more nutrition, causing an imbalance in metabolism that eventually leads to type 2 diabetes.”

The second, known as the “fetal insulin hypothesis,” says that the genes responsible for impaired insulin secretion also have a negative effect on birth weight. Some of these genes have been discovered in recent studies, supporting the latter hypothesis.

More research is needed to state any definitive solutions, but this study is groundbreaking in that it can help lead to preventative methods of addressing low birth weight in specific populations.

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