premature baby, diabetes risk, research, study

Risk of Diabetes Higher in Premature Babies

A new study published in Diabetologia shows that babies born premature are at a slightly higher risk for developing diabetes.

The researchers studied data of nearly 4.2 million babies born in Sweden between 1973 and 2014. The study followed the children until they were at least 22 years old. 

The study results

Babies born preterm had a 21% increased chance of type 1 and 26% higher chance of type 2 diabetes before age 18. After the age of 18, the chances increased to 24% for type 1 and 49% for type 2. Among premature babies, girls had a slightly higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes than boys. 


Why are premature babies at higher risk?

The study authors conjecture various reasons why premature babies could be at higher risk for diabetes, such as:

  • Interruption of normal development of the pancreas, which regulates blood sugar through insulin-producing beta cells.
  • Alteration of immune function, including T-cell response, which could lead to autoimmune issues and type 1.
  • Exposure to prenatal corticosteroids and catch-up growth as a baby could lead to factors that spark type 2.
  • Other factors, such as time spent in the NICU, not getting the right nutrition as an infant, and medications or procedures could lead to diabetes.

The implications

Parents of premature babies should not be alarmed; most premature babies turn out healthy and strong. They simply have a slightly greater risk for developing certain illnesses. 

As a result, it’s wise to get screened early for diabetes. If there is a diabetes diagnosis, it’s important to get on top of treating it and making lifestyle adjustments as soon as possible. 

In addition, medical records of premature babies should include as much information as possible on their birth history, gestational age, birth weight, and any complications in order to look out for and prevent any disorders later on in life.