There is a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes through the joint association of low birth weight and unhealthy habits in adulthood, a new study finds.
Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health analysed nearly 150,000 healthcare professionals without type 2 diabetes. Unhealthy factors were defined in relation to BMI, physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking.
During a follow-up period of 20 to 30 years, 11,700 new cases of type 2 diabetes were reported. Lighter newborns had an increased risk of developing type 2, but this risk was heightened due to the unhealthy lifestyle factors. When the two factors were combined, the risk increased further, indicating a signification interaction.
Lead author Yanping Li, PhD said: “We found a significant additive interaction between birth weight and unhealthy lifestyle on risk of type 2 diabetes.
“The finding suggests that most cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by the adoption of a healthier lifestyle, but simultaneous improvement of both prenatal and postnatal factors could further prevent additional cases.”
The researchers added that 57 per cent of new diabetes cases among the participants could have been prevented through having better lifestyle habits, on top of having a normal birth weight.
There are limitations with this study, though. Maternal factors such as gestational diabetes and duration of pregnancy could have influenced results, while genetic factors that could make people susceptible to type 2 diabetes were not explored.
Furthermore, as the study was observational, only associations can be made, and no causality can be reported between low birth weight and the risk of diabetes.
Li added: “I would like to wait for more studies in different populations to replicate our findings, and I hope it is helpful for diabetes prevention worldwide.”

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