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Your Environment. Your Health.

Preterm Birth Might Increase Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Xiaobin Wang, M.D.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
NIEHS Grant R21ES011666

Researchers supported in part by NIEHS found that premature infants are more likely to have elevated insulin levels at birth and into early childhood than infants born at term. Elevated insulin levels are an indirect indication of insulin resistance, and the findings provide additional evidence that preterm birth could be a risk factor for future development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

The researchers measured plasma insulin levels of 1,358 children at birth and in early childhood. They found that plasma insulin levels were inversely associated with gestational age at birth and in early childhood. Average insulin levels at birth were 9.2 micro international units per milliliter (µIU/ml) for full term and 18.9 µIU/ml for early preterm births. Infants were considered full term if they were born at a gestational age of 39 weeks or later, and early preterm infants were born at less than 34 weeks. The plasma insulin levels taken in early childhood were higher for children born early term (37-38 weeks), late preterm (34-36 weeks), and for early preterm than for those born at 39 weeks or later.

An accompanying editorial says the fact that the higher levels of plasma insulin at birth could be tracked into early childhood strengthens the argument for a trajectory of diabetes risk that begins very early in life. The editorial also points to the need for rigorous studies of early life interventions to better understand how to reduce risk for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.

Citation: Wang G, Divall S, Radovick S, Paige D, Ning Y, Chen Z, Ji Y, Hong X, Walker SO, Caruso D, Pearson C, Wang MC, Zuckerman B, Cheng TL, Wang X. 2014. Preterm birth and random plasma insulin levels at birth and in early childhood. JAMA. 311(6):587-596. (Editorial)


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