Scientists have found the first direct evidence that obesity during the early stages of pregnancy increases a child’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
The scientists’ advice for expectant mothers: lose weight to decrease the chance of a child developing the disease.
“We know that incidents of type 1 diabetes are increasing by 2 to 5 percent each year around the world and we see the highest increase in children under the age of five but there is no cure. This makes it a large burden not only for individuals and their families, but also for the health system,” says study co-author Tahereh Moradi, an associate professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. “In other words, it’s bad for everybody so it’s important to understand how to prevent it.”
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that typically develops in childhood, which has earned it the name juvenile diabetes. More than 550 million people across the world are expected to be living with the disease by 2030.
Moradi and her colleagues studied 1.26 million children born in Sweden between 1992 and 2004 and followed their progress through medical records contained within Swedish national registers from the time of their birth until 2009, or until they developed the disease.
Almost 6,000 children developed the disease during the study. Most of them were born to parents from within Scandinavia, but about 300 were the children of migrants from outside the Nordic region.
Previous studies have suggested a link between obesity during pregnancy and a child’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes, but up until now, there have been no definitive conclusions and no clear advice on the issue for expectant mothers.
The detailed records available in Sweden provided researchers with enough clinical data on both mother’s BMI (body mass index) and the diabetic status of both parents to clarify previously conflicting information, according to Moradi.
To find a link between maternal obesity and type 1 diabetes, the scientists split the children into two groups. First in children with diabetic parents and then in children who did not have diabetic parents.
Examining the data, they found that children who had not inherited the disease from their parents had a 33 percent higher risk of developing the disease if their mother was obese during the first trimester.
The study is published in Diabetologia, the scientific journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.