babies

Early term babies may be more prone to diabetes in later life

by Barbara Hewitt on August 9, 2017

Babies a few weeks before full term face a higher risk later in life of developing diabetes and obesity related illness as well as a shortened lifespan, according to new research.

In the study researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel investigated hospitalisations of children up to age 18 to determine the impact that early term versus full term gestation had on paediatric health.

(Molka/Bigstock.com)

For the research early term was defined as delivery between 37 and 39 weeks and some 54,073 early term deliveries and 171,000 full term deliveries were analysed.

‘We found that hospitalizations up to the age of 18 involving endocrine and metabolic morbidity were found to be more common in the early term group as compared with the full term group, especially at ages five and older,’ said professor Eyal Sheiner, vice dean of the BGU Faculty of Health Sciences (FOHS) and head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Soroka University Medical Centre.

He added that obesity was significantly more frequent among the early term babies and the researchers also discovered that children older than five exhibited significantly higher rates of type 1 diabetes.

‘Pregnancies ending at early term were more likely to be complicated by hypertensive disorders and maternal diabetes, both gestational and pre-gestational. Deliveries were more often caesarean, and mean birthweight was significantly smaller,’ Sheiner explained.

‘Babies delivered at early term were also more likely to be low birthweight, less than 5.5 pounds or 2.5 kilograms,’ he added.

These diseases may increase the likelihood of other associated maladies with a detrimental long term impact on one’s health and well-being, increased lifetime healthcare expenditures and a shorter life span, the researchers concluded.

Meanwhile, separate research suggests that a baby’s nutrition, especially consumption of fish fat, may reduce the risk of type 1 diabetes in children with a genetic susceptibility for the disease.

A study in Finland found that children in the risk group had a smaller chance of pre-type 1 diabetes when higher levels of fish fatty acids were found in their blood. Fish fatty acids are stored in the child’s body during pregnancy and ingested through breast milk. Breast feeding also provided a good protection against pre-type 1 diabetes, which may be partly attributed to the fatty acid content of breast milk.

The study says that early nutrition may play an important role in the prevention of type 1 diabetes in children at increased risk genetically but the researchers said that more work is needed to confirm the findings.

Previous studies have observed potential protective associations of fish fats in older children. The new study involved younger children, which is important, because pre-type 1 diabetes often starts to develop in infancy. Pre-type 1 diabetes often leads to the onset of the actual disease.

‘Our findings indicate that the first year of life of a child is important in terms of prevention. This is when the body’s immune system is developing, which has long term health effects,’ said senior researcher Sari Niinistö, who added that the mother can affect the type of fat in breast milk with her own diet.

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