Malnutrition during pregnancy linked to higher risk of diabetes in later life: Study
Scientists believe this is a result of genetic programming that occurs during pregnancy
As a result of deficiency, the unborn child’s metabolism adjusts to a nutritionally poor environment – Representative Image: iStock
Malnutrition during pregnancy has been found to potentially increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in later life, according to several studies.
A 2013 study conducted by Peter Klimek and his team revealed that individuals born during a famine period, compared to those born one year before or later, face a risk of diabetes that is more than twice as high.
In a recent study led by Klimek and his team, they achieved a significant breakthrough by not only measuring the incidence (number of new cases) of diabetes but also assessing the overall prevalence of diabetes patients.
This new approach provides a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of malnutrition during critical developmental stages on diabetes prevalence later in life.
“Among men born during the two most severe famine periods, 1939 and 1946/1947, the rate of new cases of diabetes is up to 78 per cent higher in 2013 to 2017 than in comparable years, and up to 59 per cent higher among women,” explains Klimek, from the Complexity Science Hub and the Medical University of Vienna.
The effect is strongest in those born in 1939.
The incidence rate rose from 3.9 per cent to 6.9 per cent among men and from 3.4 per cent to 5.4 per cent among women. Additionally, both groups have an increased incidence of concomitant conditions such as heart failure, arterial hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease.
Scientists believe this is a result of genetic programming that occurs during pregnancy, which increases the risk of these diseases. As a result of deficiency, the unborn child’s metabolism adjusts to a nutritionally poor environment.
If this does not prove true later in life, a maladaptation occurs that leads to increased metabolic and cardiovascular diseases in these birth groups.
“One strength of our study is the new, large dataset on which it is based,” Klimek said.
This covers 99.9 per cent of the Austrian population between 2012 and 2017, and all insured patients aged over 50 and under 100 were examined. Of these approximately 3.5 million people, 746,184 were treated for diabetes.
The comprehensive dataset allowed researchers to measure age-specific and regional incidence rates directly for the entire population, without additional assumptions that would be required for modeling.
“Our results clearly demonstrate that public health efforts to address diabetes should not focus solely on lifestyle factors. The importance of reproductive health, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and in the early postnatal period, must also be considered,” Klimek said.