THURSDAY, Aug. 21, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Being born at a low birth weight puts black women at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.
The findings may partly explain high diabetes rates among black Americans, a population that has a high prevalence of low birth weight, the researchers added.
Their study of more than 21,000 black women found that those with a low birth weight were 13 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with a normal birth weight. The risk of diabetes was 40 percent higher in those with a very low birth weight.
Low birth weight was defined as less than 5.5 pounds and very low birth weight as less than 3.3 pounds.
A woman's body weight did not appear to affect the link between low birth weight and increased diabetes risk. Those who weren't obese still had a higher risk of diabetes if they had a low or very low birth weight.
While the study found an association between birth weight and diabetes risk, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.
The researchers pointed to two possible reasons for the association: When a newborn body lacks nutrition, it reprograms itself so it can absorb more of what nutrition it does get and that could raise the risk for diabetes later in life; and certain gene mutations may affect the body's ability to make insulin, which would lead to a low birth weight and an increased chance for diabetes in adulthood.
The study was published Aug. 21 in the journal Diabetes Care.
"African-American women are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and also have higher rates of low birth weight than white women," Edward Ruiz-Narvaez, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, said in a university news release.
"Our study shows a clear relationship between birth weight and diabetes that highlights the importance of further research for this at-risk group," he added.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about type 2 diabetes.