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American women of Chinese and Korean heritage have higher risk of developing gestational diabetes

December 11, 2009 |  9:48 am

About one in every ten American women of Chinese and Korean heritage develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, a rate that is 2.5 times higher than that of Caucasian women and three times higher than that of African Americans. Gestational diabetes, marked by high blood-sugar levels typical of Type 2 diabetes, can if untreated lead to early delivery and a need for cesarean sections and increases the child's risk of developing obesity later in life. Women who develop it are also 2.5 times as likely to develop metabolic syndrome after their pregnancy. Metabolic syndrome, characterized by high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and obesity, among other things, is a significant risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Researchers have known that Asian women, in general, have a higher than normal risk of developing gestational diabetes, but it has not been clear what the magnitude of the risk is or which nationalities are most at risk. To answer those questions, a team from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland studied all singleton births, more than 16,000, at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii from 1995 to 2003. That location was chosen because of its ethnic diversity.

They reported today in the journal Ethnicity and Disease that the average risk for the entire group was 6.7%. The individual risk ranged from a high of 10.1% for Korean Americans and 9.8% for Chinese Americans to 3.3% for African Americans. Women of Filipino ancestry also have high risk, but those with Japanese and Vietnamese heritage had average risk. Native Americans and women of Hispanic heritage had below-average risk.

"Many previous studies have lumped all Asians and Pacific Islanders together," study co-author Teresa Hillier said in a statement. "We now know that the risk for developing [gestational diabetes] varies greatly depending on your specific ethnic background. Future studies should also look at whether women in these higher risk groups also have more complications."

The study was funded by the American Diabetes Assn.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

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