Latest News
Providing further understanding of the link between low birth weights and obesity later in life, researchers found nutritionally deprived newborns are "programmed" to eat more because they develop less neurons in the region of the brain that controls food intake
» view
Here are answers to some questions you may have for us.
» view
We now have 1012 mothers enrolled in the START study!
» view
The South Asian Birth Cohort Sub-study: Optimal Perinatal Health Behaviours from the Perspectives of Grandmothers- officially released by Canadian Institute of Health Research in the 'Video Talks' competition for 2016.
» view
Join Our Mailing List

Join our mailing list to receive updates from START

» join
Diabetes risk in South Asians




Several studies suggest that when people leave a rural life on the Indian sub-continent and migrate to urban centres in Canada and elsewhere, they have two to three times the risk of developing diabetes in their adult years. They also tend to have more fat around their middles, abnormal cholesterol and sometimes high blood pressure, increasing their risk for heart attack.

Thin/fat babies have a higher risk for diabetes

Previous studies suggest the predisposition to central obesity and excess body fat is also present in South Asians in the early years of their lives. So, researchers at McMaster University sought to test that.


A recent publication looked at nearly 800 pregnant South Asian (enrolled in the START study)  and white Caucasian women (enrolled in the FAMILY study) from the cities of Toronto and Hamilton, and tested them and their babies.

“We observed that the South Asian mums have a greater burden of gestational diabetes or elevated blood sugar in pregnancy,” said Dr. Sonia Anand, professor of medicine and epidemiology at McMaster University.


And…when we measured the babies’ body weight and body fat at birth we observed that although the South Asian babies are lower birth weight, they have more adipose tissue at birth. And we call this the thin/fat phenotype.”

The predictors for excess body fat in all the babies were found to be a South Asian origin, the mother’s body fat before pregnancy, and her rate of gestational diabetes and high glucose.


Preventing gestational diabetes may help

“It makes us then think about ways we might be able to prevent babies from already being born with an excess amount of body fat and that may be to try and prevent gestational diabetes in the mum. And I think that’s where interventions studies should focus next in order to break this cycle of increased risk of diabetes in the South Asian population,” says Anand.

‘An exciting area of research’

Will the babies be bottle-fed or breastfed, what will be their levels of physical activity and growth trajectories be, are all questions that will be studied as the researchers follow the children until they are three years old.

“It’s an exciting area of research,” says Anand. “There are multiple groups around the world now looking at early determinants of what we call chronic diseases—those that occur later in life…The more we find, the greater chance we have of preventing some of these diseases that generally afflict older-aged populations.”