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CDC Report: After Diabetes During Pregnancy, Healthy Diet Reduces Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Study is first to show reduced risk solely through dietary modification (Oct. 9)

By sticking to a healthy diet in the years after pregnancy, women who develop diabetes during pregnancy can greatly reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to an October 9 announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Previously, it was not known how much the risk for type 2 diabetes in these women could be lowered by adhering to a healthy diet.

In about 5% of U.S. pregnancies, women who do not have diabetes before becoming pregnant develop high blood-sugar levels during pregnancy. This condition, called gestational diabetes, increases a woman's risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life up to sevenfold compared with pregnant women who don't have gestational diabetes. Little is known about the role healthy lifestyle factors may have in preventing the progression from gestational diabetes to type 2 diabetes later in life.

The new study found the greatest reductions in the risk for type 2 diabetes were among women who followed diets that were rich in whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and that included poultry, seafood, and nuts, with limited intake of red and processed meats. Those who followed this type of diet in the years after having gestational diabetes consistently reduced their risk for type 2 diabetes by about half that of women who did not.

The study, published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine, included 4,413 women who developed gestational diabetes between 1991 and 2001. The women were participating in the long-term Nurses' Health Study II. As part of that study, the nurses filled out questionnaires every other year on lifestyle and health. They also completed a questionnaire every 4 years about their intake of several common food items during the previous year.

The researchers ranked the women’s responses in terms of how closely they adhered to three widely studied diets: a Mediterranean-style diet; the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH); and the Healthy Eating Index, a measure of an individual’s adherence to the healthy eating guidelines developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. All three diets promote eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.

Of the women in the study, 491 later developed type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that women who adhered most closely to the diets in the study (scores in the top 25%) lowered their risk for type 2 diabetes considerably when compared with the least compliant group (the lowest 25%):

  • Mediterranean diet: 40% percent lower risk
  • DASH diet: 46% lower risk
  • Healthy Eating Index pattern: 57% lower risk

For more information, visit the CDC Web site.

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