Chinese babies face diabetes epidemic

Since 1979, China has upheld a one-child policy for the nation's families.

The nearly unmanageable booming population is now a culture in which most parents only have a first-born child--unless they live in rural areas and their first born is a girl.

The problem, according to health experts, is that first-born status is now being tied to a higher risk for obesity and diabetes.

Chong Yap Seng, a scientist at Singapore’s National University Hospital, is studying how biological factors may be influencing China's huge spike in diabetes cases. The country now has 92.3 million diabetics, which is about four times as many as there are in the US.

Why first-borns?

It appears that first-born children tend to weigh less initially, but they gain weight faster and end up being larger as adults.

“You have a whole group of firstborns growing up in China who are all at a slightly higher risk for obesity and diabetes than in other societies,” said Chong.

A 2010 study from Brazil found that being first in the birth order is linked to different levels of body mass, more fat and metabolic risk. Scientists say that this may be influenced by something called "fetal programming," in which the fetus picks up nutritional cues from the mother's body about how to store calories or fat in order to ensure the best chances for survival after birth.

Research could help prevent or delay diabetes complications

The World Health Organization reports that, in 2002, one in six adults in China was overweight, and that the obesity rate among children is tripling about every 20 years.

Li Qibin, manager of Sino-Danish Diabetes Project, explains that this research can help medical professionals with early intervention techniques for diabetes.

“If we use the biomarkers to identify those high-risk people, monitor their health and take intervention measures in the early stages, the disease could be prevented or delayed,” said Qibin.

Source: Bloomberg

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