Women who were obese during pregnancy are more likely to have a child with type 1 diabetes than women with a healthy body weight, according to new research.
The research, which was published in Diabetologia, found that obesity during pregnancy could increase the risk of a child having type 1 diabetes by as much as 33 per cent.
Recent studies have suggested that rates of type 1 diabetes are increasing, and, as obesity rates are going up, this research could help to explain why. If so, the study has significant public health implications, and indicates the importance of strategies to counter obesity during pregnancy.
The results of the study only applied to pregnant women who had not had any kind of diabetes before.
The study
The study was conducted on 1,263,358 children born between 1992 and 2004. The children were followed from birth until 2009. Over the course of the study, 5,771 children were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The average age of diagnosis was 7.5 years old.
The researchers found that children born to a mother with type 1 diabetes had a 6.19-fold increase in their risk of type 1 diabetes. Children born to a father with type 1 diabetes had a 7.59-fold increase in their risk of type 1 diabetes.
In cases where the mother was obese – but neither she nor the child’s father had type 1 diabetes – the child had a 33 per cent increase in their risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
Does this explain the cause of type 1 diabetes?
It is commonly thought that heredity is the most significant factor in the development of type 1 diabetes. Having a father with type 1 diabetes increases an individual’s chance of developing type 1 diabetes by 6.6 per cent, while having a mother with type 1 diabetes increases risk of the condition by 2.3 per cent. But the majority of children with type 1 diabetes do not have parents with the condition.
This research supports the notion that the most significant risk factor for type 1 diabetes is something inherited from parents, although there are other theories, such as exposure to stressful events during childhood.
Obesity during pregnancy and type 1 diabetes: what is the significance of the findings?
The research indicates that taking measures to combat obesity during pregnancy could reduce the risk of a child developing type 1 diabetes.
“The finding that first trimester maternal obesity was a risk factor for type 1 diabetes only in offspring of parents without diabetes, and that maternal obesity caused no ‘extra’ risk in offspring of parents with diabetes, clearly suggests that heredity for type 1 diabetes is the strongest risk factor of the two for development of type 1 diabetes in the next generatio,” the authors explain.
“Prevention of overweight and obesity in women of reproductive age may contribute to a decreased incidence of type 1 diabetes,” they conclude.

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