Preterm Birth May Raise Diabetes Risk

Study Links Premature Birth to Blood Sugar Problems in Young Adults

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on May 16, 2007

May 16, 2007 -- Preterm babies born at very low birth weight may be more prone blood sugar problems as young adults.

That news comes from researchers in Finland, including Petteri Hovi, MD, of Finland's National Public Health Institute.

They studied 332 young adults who were 18-27 years old.

The group included 163 people who had been born prematurely at very low birth weight (ranging from 1.3-3.3 pounds). The remaining 169 participants had been born from full-term pregnancies.

Participants provided blood samples and completed questionnaires about their medical history, exercise habits, and family history of diabetes.

The researchers tested participants' blood samples and found that while none of the participants had diabetes, blood sugar problems and high systolic blood pressure were more common in the preterm group.

Those blood sugar problems included prediabetes and insulin resistance, which are early warning signs of diabetes risk.

Insulin is a hormone the body makes to control blood sugar. In insulin resistance, the body doesn't heed insulin properly.

Systolic blood pressure is the first, or top, number in a blood pressure reading, normally less than 120.

Reasons Unclear

The study doesn't pinpoint the causes of participants' blood sugar problems or high blood pressure.

The differences between the preterm and full-term groups didn't appear to be due to weight or body fat levels, note the researchers.

The findings were statistically significant, meaning it wasn't likely due to chance. But the gap between the two groups wasn't large.

Preterm babies face many challenges as a result of not being able to complete a healthy pregnancy. Those challenges may have long-term health consequences, note the researchers.

The study appears in The New England Journal of Medicine, along with an editorial by the journal's deputy editor, Julie Ingelfinger, MD.

It's not clear exactly how preterm birth affects adult health, but it's an important topic, notes Ingelfinger.

"Now that many more extremely premature babies are surviving to adulthood, ensuring their health is crucial," writes Ingelfinger.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Hovi, P. The New England Journal of Medicine, May 17, 2007; vol 356: pp 2053-2063. Ingelfinger, J. The New England Journal of Medicine, May 17, 2007; vol 356: pp 2094-2095.

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