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      The Developmental Origins of Insulin Resistance

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          Until recently, the principal causes of degenerative disease were thought to act in adult life and to accelerate destructive processes, such as the formation of atheroma and rise in blood pressure. Recent observations that people who develop coronary heart disease grow differently to other people during fetal life and childhood have, however, led to a new ‘developmental’ model for the disease. Low birthweight has been shown to be associated with increased rates of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus and altered glucose tolerance. These associations with low birthweight extend across the normal range of birthweight and reflect slow fetal growth rather than premature birth. The associations are thought to be consequences of developmental plasticity, the phenomenon by which one genotype can give rise to a range of different physiological or morphological states in response to different environmental conditions during development. Recent observations suggest that low birthweight, thinness at 2 years of age and an increase in body mass index (BMI) after the age of 2 years are each associated with the development of insulin resistance in later life. The prevention of a substantial proportion of type 2 diabetes and other disorders linked to insulin resistance may, therefore, depend on interventions during development. These include protecting the growth of babies during the first 2 years after birth by good infant feeding practices and preventing a rapid increase in BMI after the age of 2 years. Improving fetal nutrition remains an important long-term goal.

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          Most cited references 14

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          Phenotypic Plasticity and the Origins of Diversity

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            The nutritional basis of the fetal origins of adult disease.

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              Pathways of infant and childhood growth that lead to type 2 diabetes.

              Although a link between small body size at birth and later type 2 diabetes has been repeatedly documented, less is known about the associations between the disease and growth during infancy. The aim of this study was to explore the pathways of infant and early growth that lead to type 2 diabetes in adult life. We carried out a longitudinal study of 8760 subjects born in Helsinki from 1934 to 1944. On average, they had 8 measurements of height and weight between birth and 1 year of age and another 10 measurements between 1 and 12 years of age. We identified people with type 2 diabetes using a national register. Among babies whose birth weights were 3.5 kg, slow growth in length between birth and 3 months of age predicted later disease. Rapid gain in BMI after age 2 years increased the risk of later disease in both groups of babies, but this effect was greatest among children who had slow growth in length between birth and 3 months of age. In children whose Z-scores for length decreased, an SD increase in BMI at age 12 years was associated with an odds ratio (OR) for type 2 diabetes of 1.77 (95% CI 1.50-2.09). The corresponding OR in subjects whose Z-scores for length increased was 1.42 (95% CI 1.20-1.69). Rapid gain in childhood BMI was associated with high maternal BMI and socioeconomic factors (fewer people in the home and lower social class). Babies with above-average birth weights may develop type 2 diabetes later in life if poor living conditions lead to faltering growth in length in the first few months after birth. We speculate that growth faltering at this time is associated with lifelong impairment of insulin metabolism and inability to meet the challenge of rapid childhood increase in BMI.

                Author and article information

                Horm Res Paediatr
                Hormone Research in Paediatrics
                S. Karger AG
                February 2006
                27 January 2006
                : 64
                : Suppl 3
                : 2-7
                Division of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
                89311 Horm Res 2005;64:2–7
                © 2005 S. Karger AG, Basel

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                Page count
                Figures: 2, Tables: 3, References: 39, Pages: 6
                Insulin Sensitivity: Introduction


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