Preemie Birth Linked to Higher Insulin Levels in Kids
These babies could be at increased risk of diabetes later in life, study suggests
By Randy Dotinga
TUESDAY, Feb. 11, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Based on tests of newborns and young children, a new study suggests that premature babies could face a higher risk of diabetes much later in life.
The findings don't confirm a connection between premature birth and diabetes, although other studies have hinted at a possible connection and increased risk.
But they do show that babies and young children have higher insulin levels if they were born before full term, and the levels are greatest in those who were the most premature. Higher insulin levels, in turn, could be an indicator of diabetes even decades down the line, the researchers noted.
If future studies confirm the research, it may be possible to know which newborns will face the highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adulthood, said study co-author Dr. Xiaobin Wang.
"We could identify babies potentially at risk right from birth and alert pediatricians and parents to pay more attention to future risk of metabolic disease," said Wang, director of the Center on the Early Life Origins of Disease at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore.
Scientists want to understand the early risk factors for diabetes because it's possible to prevent the illness before it appears, Wang said. They're especially interested in the possible effects of premature births, she said, because increasing rates of obesity appear to be boosting the percentage of premature births.
In the United States, she said, one of every nine babies is born prematurely, and the rate is one in five among black Americans.
The new study aimed to detect how early premature babies are different from full-term babies when it comes to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is necessary for the body to metabolize the carbohydrates in food. People with type 2 diabetes cannot process insulin properly, putting them at risk of dangerous fluctuations in their blood sugar levels.
When it comes to the causes of diabetes, "inherited genes explain only quite a small part of the risk, maybe no more than 10 percent for some forms of diabetes," said Mark Hanson, a professor of cardiovascular science at the University of Southampton, in England.