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The hefty fetal phenotype hypothesis revisited: high birth weight, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes in a Saskatchewan cohort of First Nations and non-First Nations women

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 December 2017

R. F. Dyck
Department of Medicine, Canadian Center for Health and Safety in Agriculture, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada
C. Karunanayake
Department of Medicine, Canadian Center for Health and Safety in Agriculture, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada
P. Pahwa
Department of Medicine, Canadian Center for Health and Safety in Agriculture, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada
N. D. Osgood
Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada Department of Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada


Although low birth weight (LBW) increases the risk for type 2 diabetes (T2DM), the relationship between high birth weight (HBW) and T2DM is less definitive and largely confined to North American Indigenous populations. We re-examined the relationship between LBW (<2500 g) and HBW (>4000 g) and both T2DM and gestational diabetes (GDM) among First Nations and non-First Nations women in Saskatchewan. We analyzed new data for female subjects from a 2001 case-control study that led to our hefty fetal phenotype hypothesis. Using survival analysis techniques and a validated algorithm for identifying diabetes in health care administrative data, we followed a 1950–1984 birth cohort of 2003 women until March 31, 2013. Cox regression analysis determined the time to occurrence of first episode of GDM and diagnosis of T2DM by birth weight and ethnicity. First Nations women with HBW demonstrated a greater risk for developing both T2DM [hazard ratios (HR) 1.568; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.188, 2.069] and GDM (HR 1.468; 95% CI 1.016, 2.121) than those with normal birth weight (NBW). Non-First Nations women with LBW had a greater risk of developing GDM than those with NBW (HR 1.585; 95% CI 1.001, 2.512). HBW is a risk factor for GDM and T2DM among First Nations women. This is likely due to exposure of these women to their own mothers’ diabetic pregnancies or gestational impaired glucose tolerance. This inter-generational amplification of T2DM risk mediated through prenatal exposures appears to play a substantial role in the epidemic of T2DM among First Nations peoples.

Original Article
© Cambridge University Press and the International Society for Developmental Origins of Health and Disease 2017 

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