Diabetes From the Womb?

When most people think about the causes of Type 2 diabetes, overnourishment comes to mind. And it’s true that being overweight or obese — or taking in more calories than the body burns off—increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. But there appears to be one period of life in which Type 2 diabetes risk is increased by the opposite problem, undernourishment: before birth.

A recent study using data from China connected exposure to a famine in that country, from 1959 to 1961, to elevated blood glucose levels, or prediabetes. Published in the journal Diabetes, the study used information from a 2002 health and nutrition survey on 7,874 adults from rural areas born between 1954 and 1964. Based on when they were born, study subjects were classified as not exposed to the famine or as exposed in utero (before birth), in early childhood, in mid-childhood, or in late childhood. Among those not exposed to the famine, the rate of prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes, at the time of the survey, was 2.4%. Among those exposed in utero, the rate was 5.7%; in early childhood, 3.9%; in mid-childhood, 3.4%; and in late childhood, 5.9%. Participants from a severely affected area of the country who were exposed to the famine in utero had a rate of prediabetes 3.92 times that of unexposed participants. Among participants from severely affected areas who were exposed in utero, those found by the survey to follow a Western diet as adults were 7.63 times as likely to have prediabetes as those who did not follow a Western diet, and those with a higher economic status at the time of the survey were 6.2 times as likely to have prediabetes as the others.


Do you suspect that prenatal or childhood malnutrition might have been a factor in your diabetes? Why? Should diabetes research focus more on prenatal nutrition as a possible contributor to the development of Type 2 diabetes than it currently does? Leave a comment below!

  • FW Pillow

    Sounds like we are predisposed to
    deal with malnutrition from the womb which might explain high incidence of diabetes among native cultures when they go to Western diets.


    Are you saying that if I was carrying a child between those years, that is why I have become a type 2 diabetic?

  • Doris J Dickson

    I think they might want to be careful how they word this so mothers don’t go overfeeding themselves while pregnant.

    I’m kind with FW Pillow on this one. If your body is programmed to operate with xx amount of nourishment, that’s it’s base metabolism. Then you overfeed it and it packs on the weight since it had already been used to operating quite well leanly. Still means whatever isn’t needed and used as energy is stored in the stomach or on the behind. Still means they/we tend to eat more than we are programmed to need for our level of activity.

    Not to mention – high intake of rice (as they do in Asian communities) aren’t necessarily a good thing ESPECIALLY if one is sedate and doesn’t need all those rapidly digesting carbs. Rapid digesting carbs – hyperinsulinemia – metabolic syndrome.

    I wonder if the same “thing” happened after the potato famine in Ireland.