Women who conceive in the winter are at higher risk of developing gestational diabetes, according to new research from the University of Adelaide in Australia. Rates of this type of diabetes are on the rise, with the condition affecting about 10% of pregnant women in the United States and 5% to 10% of pregnant women in Australia.
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes first diagnosed during pregnancy, typically in the second or third trimester, that can increase the risk of complications in the baby such as high birth weight, respiratory difficulties, and preterm birth, as well as raising the chances of future Type 2 diabetes in both mother and child. Risk factors for developing the condition include being over the age of 25; having close family members with diabetes; being overweight; or being African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American.
To determine whether there is seasonal variation in the rates of gestational diabetes, researchers looked at data from more than 60,000 births in South Australia from 2007–2011. During these five years, the rate of gestational diabetes was found to increase, from 4.9% of pregnancies in 2007 to 7.5% of pregnancies in 2011. Women who conceived in winter were more likely to develop the condition, with 6.6% of pregnancies from winter conceptions affected, compared to 5.4% of pregnancies from summer conceptions.
“Our study is the first of its kind to find strong evidence of a relationship between gestational diabetes and the season in which a child is conceived,” noted lead study author Petra Verburg, MD. “The mechanisms that cause gestational diabetes are still not fully understood. Previous studies have suggested that meteorological factors, physical activity, diet, and vitamin D are risk factors for gestational diabetes, all of which are impacted by the winter season.”
Additional research is needed to confirm whether these results hold true in other populations, as well as to evaluate additional factors that change with the seasons that may be affecting women’s risk of gestational diabetes.
For more information, see the University of Adelaide press release “Winter Conception Increases Mum’s Diabetes Risk” or the study’s abstract in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care. And for more information on gestational diabetes see our three-part series on the condition by certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian Amy Campbell.
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Diane Fennell: Diane Fennell has been an editor at Diabetes Self-Management magazine since 2003. She is currently the Editorial Director. (Diane Fennell is not a medical professional.)
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