Premature babies may be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes

Individuals who were born preterm face a greater lifetime risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study from a team of Stanford University researchers. While the increase in risk is moderate, it underscores the need for these people to avoid other risk factors for the condition.

Being born prematurely increased a person's chances of developing diabetes by less than 1 percent, the study showed. However, the researchers said that other factors like obesity, tobacco use, high blood pressure and limited physical exercise could multiply a person's odds of developing the metabolic condition.

For the study, which was published in the journal Diabetes Care, researchers examined the medical records of 630,000 residents of Sweden, comparing rates of type 2 diabetes among adults who had been born prematurely to those delivered after the full gestation time of 37 weeks.

The results showed that while 1.2 percent of full-term babies ended up developing the condition, 1.5 percent of premature newborns became diabetics.

The researchers said that their findings are important because the number of children being born early is increasing. Even a slightly elevated risk of diabetes could affect millions of individuals.

While the results provide no evidence as to why premature birth increases lifetime type 2 diabetes risk, Casey Crumb, who led the study, told Reuters that poor nutrition in the womb has been shown to affect metabolic processes in fetuses. This may also be a reason for early delivery.

Crumb said that the most important thing to take away from the study is that individuals who were born prematurely should be extra diligent about guarding against other factors that can increase their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which for many people means losing excess weight.