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Is there a link between birth weight and type 2 diabetes?

In this study, researchers attempt to determine if there is a link between birth weight and type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a very prevalent disease, affecting over 422 million people worldwide in just 2014 alone. One avenue of research hypothesizes that the environment of a fetus and its development in the mother’s womb can impact on type 2 diabetes risk in later life. In a recent study, researchers wanted to see if there was an association between low birth weight and type 2 diabetes, as well as fasting glucose.

The results of a recent analysis suggest that the risk of type 2 diabetes was higher if one was genetically at risk for lower birth weight. In addition, a high level of fasting glucose also had a significant association with lower birth weight. There was no evidence of a significant association with lower birth weight and fasting insulin, 2-hour glucose, or concentration of hemoglobin A1CThe authors found that these associations seemed to be true even when using different methods and other data – termed a sensitivity analysis.

According to the authors, “a genetic predisposition to lower birth weight was associated with increased risk of T2D and higher fasting glucose concentration, suggesting genetic effects on retarded fetal growth and increased diabetes risk that either are independent of each other or operate through alterations of integrated biological mechanisms.”

These results are in line with previous published observational studies that support a link between lower birth weight and diabetes risk This present study minimized the bias and potential confounding factors and had an additional genetics-based perspective. The authors caution that their methods depend on some strong assumptions, which may affect their conclusions. In addition, they stated that there is always the risk of some other factors affecting the link between birth weight and type 2 diabetes, such as unknown maternal genetic effects on the fetus or other unknown pathways.

The authors suggested that working on strategies to improve fetal health and growth may have large impacts on public health, especially in terms of decreasing future risk of type 2 diabetes. Similarly, the authors suggest that further research on genes associated with birth weight would be a beneficial avenue to pursue.


Written by Olajumoke Marissa Ologundudu, B.Sc. (Hons)



BIRTH-GENE (BIG) Study Working Group. Association of Birth Weight With Type 2 Diabetes and Glycemic Traits A Mendelian Randomization Study. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(9):e1910915. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.10915.

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