Pregnancy

Babies born to women with gestational diabetes more likely to develop the condition

by Barbara Hewitt on August 27, 2014

Babies exposed to gestational diabetes in the womb are six times more likely to develop the condition as the number of obese pregnant women rises.

It has long been known that babies whose mothers have gestational diabetes may have problems with blood sugar levels early in life, but now a new study quantifies that risk.

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Babies exposed to gestational diabetes in the womb are six times more likely to develop the condition

Researchers from the Yale School of Medicine in the United States looked at 255 obese children with a normal glucose tolerance, who were selected for the study at around the age of 12.

All were studied for exposure to gestational diabetes in the womb and underwent a glucose tolerance test used to diagnose diabetes, which was repeated three years later.

Scientists found 210 children, or 82%, had not been exposed to gestational diabetes, while 45 or 18% had.

Just 9% of children whose mothers did not have the condition developed type 2 diabetes themselves, or developed impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), a prediabetic condition.

However, 31% of children whose mothers had gestational diabetes went on to develop either prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, indicating an increased risk of 5.75 fold.

‘Exposure to gestational diabetes was the most significant predictor of developing IGT or type 2 diabetes, with an increased risk of almost six times for those children exposed in the womb,’ said study leader Dr. Sonia Caprio.

Her report describes the findings as ‘alarming’. Not only did the affected group of children show a reduction in beta cell function in the cells that produce insulin, they also displayed a lower insulin sensitivity, which is linked with type 2 diabetes.

‘Obese normal glucose-tolerant children of gestational diabetes mothers have pre-existing defects in beta cell function. This is a strong risk factor for these children to develop prediabetes or diabetes,’ the study concluded.

There is growing concern about the findings as more women are obese when they become pregnant. In the UK, for example, it is estimated that around 15% of mothers are obese when expecting a child, up from seven per cent just 20 years ago.

Doctors have previously warned that the obesity epidemic amongst women could jeopardise the health of the next generation. This study warns: ‘The ever growing number of women with gestational diabetes suggests that the future will be filled with children with early diabetes at a rate that far exceeds the current prevalence’.

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