Insulin Resistance Begins in Utero for Babies of Obese Moms

Alexandria ,
May 30, 2009

Before they are even born, babies of obese mothers begin to develop insulin resistance, according to a study in the June issue of Diabetes Care.

Researchers have long known maternal obesity to be a risk factor for their offspring to develop obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life. However, this is the first study to show that metabolic problems for the children of obese mothers can begin much earlier – during the prenatal period.

The process by which insulin resistance develops in utero, however, is not yet fully understood. While researchers continue to explore how maternal obesity translates into risk factors for their offspring, they recommend greater efforts to prevent and reduce obesity, which has risen to epidemic proportions in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health, two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, a prevalence that has been steadily rising for years. Among children and adolescents, roughly 17 percent are overweight or obese, a figure that has also been increasing.

"If prevention is the goal to stem the epidemic of obesity and related problems, then the perinatal period of development may be an important focus of additional research," the researchers concluded. "Until we attain a better understanding of the underlying genetic predispositions, physiology and mechanisms relating to maternal and feto-placental interactions, strategies to counteract the epidemic of obesity must by necessity be considered treatment rather than prevention."

To reach lead researcher Dr. Patrick Catalano, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, MetroHealth Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University, email or phone 216-778-7341.

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Diabetes Care, published by the American Diabetes Association, is the leading peer-reviewed journal of clinical research into one of the nation's leading causes of death by disease.  Diabetes also is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke, as well as the leading cause of adult blindness, kidney failure, and non-traumatic amputations.

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Nearly half of American adults have diabetes or prediabetes; more than 30 million adults and children have diabetes; and every 21 seconds, another individual is diagnosed with diabetes in the U.S. Founded in 1940, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) is the nation’s leading voluntary health organization whose mission is to prevent and cure diabetes, and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. The ADA drives discovery by funding research to treat, manage and prevent all types of diabetes, as well as to search for cures; raises voice to the urgency of the diabetes epidemic; and works to safeguard policies and programs that protect people with diabetes. In addition, the ADA supports people living with diabetes, those at risk of developing diabetes, and the health care professionals who serve them through information and programs that can improve health outcomes and quality of life. For more information, please call the ADA at 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383) or visit Information from both of these sources is available in English and Spanish. Find us on Facebook (American Diabetes Association), Twitter (@AmDiabetesAssn) and Instagram (@AmDiabetesAssn)