Low birth weight linked to type 2 diabetes in African American women

The high prevalence of type 2 diabetes in African American women might be partially explained by a new study on birth weight, according to researchers at Boston University Medical Center.

After following more than 21,000 women who were enrolled in the Black Women's Health Study over the course of 16 years, researchers found that women with low birth weight had a 13 percent higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes than women with a normal birth weight. Those with a very low birth weight, moreover, had a 40 percent higher chance of developing the disease.

"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, ScD, 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 role of birth weight

Previous studies on birth weight have shown it to be a factor in adult health, but the current study is one of the first large-scale investigations into how birth weight affects health in a female African American population.

In the study, low birth weight was defined as less than 2.5 kg (about 5.5 pounds), and very low birth weight was less than 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds).

Adult body size did not seem to play a role in diabetes outcomes, a press release on the study stated, as there was an association between low birth weight and type 2 diabetes even in women who were not obese.

The reason low birth weight may cause type 2 diabetes later in life is based on one of two theories: the "thrifty phenotype hypothesis," which holds that an early lack of nutrition programs the body to absorb more nutrition - which causes a metabolic imbalance later in life; and the "fetal insulin hypothesis," which states that certain genes responsible for low birth weight are also responsible for faulty insulin regulation.

Source: Boston University Medical Center

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