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Low birth weight coupled with unhealthy lifestyle in later years can up the diabetes risk

Posted:  Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It is well known that lifestyle behaviours such as poor diet and smoking can lead to development of chronic diseases such as diabetes. However, research shows that low birth weight can push individuals with poor lifestyle habits further down the ladder to develop type 2 diabetes mellitus.

The diabetes epidemic has the entire world in its grip, accounting for 4.9 million deaths in 2014 according to the International Diabetes Federation. Statistical figures indicate that about 387 million people suffer with diabetes; 85–95% cases are that of type 2 diabetes.

Published in the British Medical Journal, the study was one of the few to analyse the combined effects of early life and poor lifestyle behaviours. The researchers monitored 149,794 healthy men and women for 20–30 years with respect to diet, smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption and body mass index.

Interestingly, during the study, the researchers came across 11,709 new cases of type 2 diabetes. Of these cases, 22% were solely due to a lower birth weight, 59% due to unhealthy lifestyle alone, and 18% due to the interaction between both aspects.

Yanping Li, lead author and research scientist in the Department of Nutrition claimed, "This is of critical importance in the developing countries undergoing rapid epidemiologic transition from traditional to Western lifestyles, such as China and India, where the prevalence of the Western dietary pattern, cigarette smoking, sedentary activities, obesity, and diabetes has been increasing dramatically, and low birth weight is still highly prevalent (around 17% in developing countries)."

Foetal programming activates an adaptive response to prenatal starvation which when combined with an unhealthy lifestyle increases the risk for type 2 diabetes. Hence, paying attention to early life development by incorporating measures such as improving nutrition for pregnant women is vital to prevent diabetes in the progeny.

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