Is type 2 diabetes inherited?

We’ve known for a long time that having a family history of type 2 diabetes increases a person’s risk of developing that condition.

First two years of life

How this risk is passed down is not well understood. The latest research shows that the early life environment (the first two years of life including pregnancy) plays a major role in shaping future health risks.

Children born to mothers with gestational diabetes or type 2 diabetes in pregnancy are 3.7 times (Dabela & Pettitt, 2001) more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than their brothers and sisters born before their mother’s diabetes diagnosis.

Mum’s glucose levels can reduce baby’s risk

This risk has a close relationship with glucose (sugar) levels (eg, improved blood glucose levels in Mum reduces baby’s risk of developing diabetes). That relationship shows that exposure to high blood glucose in the womb changes the baby’s metabolic functioning, increasing the risk of diabetes.

Supporting women during pregnancy to achieve healthy glucose levels can therefore significantly reduce future diabetes rates.

Factors that reduce diabetes rates

In addition to diabetes management, achieving a healthy weight gain during pregnancy, breastfeeding and healthy infant nutrition are also linked to reducing diabetes risk later in life.

Health workers play an important role in promoting these messages and supporting clients with behaviours that will protect their baby.

For more information visit the Early Life Nutrition Coalition.

Dabelea D, Pettitt D, (2011). Intrauterine diabetic environment confers risks for type 2 diabetes mellitus and obesity in the offspring, in addition to genetic susceptibility. J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. Sep-Oct;14(8):1085-91. doi: 10.1515/jpem-2001-0803. PMID: 11592564.


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