Prenatal exposure to famine ups diabetes risk

Children born during times of famine are at an increased risk of developing diabetes later in adulthood.

New York: Children born during times of famine are at an increased risk of developing diabetes later in adulthood, says a new study.

Men and women exposed in early gestation to the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 in regions with extreme food shortages were 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes in adulthood. 

In regions with severe famine there was a 1.3 fold rise in the odds of Type 2 diabetes, and there was no diabetes increase among individuals born in regions with no famine, the findings showed.

"The most important finding of our study is the dose-response relation between the severity of famine exposure in early gestation and the likelihood of later diabetes," said the study's first author L H Lumey, associate professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York.

The odds for diabetes were highest in early 1934, nine months after famine mortality peaked between May to July 1933. 

Using month of birth, the researchers identified early gestation as a timeframe that appears to be particularly sensitive to long-term effects of prenatal famine exposure. 

Scientists have long known that poor living conditions around the time of birth may have long-lasting effects on health. 

For Type 2 diabetes, they suspected that nutrition in pregnancy was a possible explanation but studies with reliable measures of the severity and timing of under-nutrition in pregnancy in large representative populations were not yet available.

The new study included all 43,150 cases of Type 2 diabetes diagnosed at age 40 or over in the Ukraine national diabetes register between 2000-2008. 

The researchers matched these records with all 1.4 million individuals in the 2001 census who were born in the selected regions between 1930-1938 and still alive in the year 2000.

The findings were detailed online in the journal Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

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