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Keywords:

  • Abdominal obesity;
  • cardiovascular risk;
  • diabetes;
  • fetal programming

Summary

This study was undertaken to review the links between maternal nutrition, offspring's birth weight and the propensity to early insulin resistance and high diabetes rates in Indian adults. Studies included a comparison of maternal size and nutrition with birth weights in Pune, India, and Southampton, UK. In Pune, the growth, insulin resistance and blood pressure of four-year-old children were assessed. Adults >40 years of age, who were resident in rural areas, were compared with adults living in urban areas for size, glucose handling, lipid status and blood pressure. Newly diagnosed diabetic adults living in urban areas were also monitored. Height, weight, head, waist and hip circumferences, skin-fold measurements and blood pressure were routinely measured. Fasting glucose, insulin, total and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides were linked to the glucose and insulin responses during glucose tolerance tests. Cytokine levels were measured in plasma samples of urban and rural adults. Indian babies were lighter, thinner, shorter and had a relatively lower lean tissue mass than the Caucasian babies. However, the subcutaneous fat measurements of these babies were comparable to those of the white Caucasian babies. The Indian mothers were small, but relatively fat mothers produced larger babies. Maternal intake of green vegetables, fruit and milk, and their circulating folate and vitamin C levels, predicted larger fetal size. Rapid childhood growth promoted insulin resistance and higher blood pressure. Rural adults were thin, with a 4% prevalence of diabetes and a 14% prevalence of hypertension, but the risks increased within the normal body mass index (BMI) range. Type 2 diabetes was common in urban adults younger than 35 years of age. Although the average BMI was 23.9 kg m−2, central obesity and thin limbs were noteworthy. Levels of interleukin-6 and tumour necrosis factor-α were markedly increased in urban dwellers. Hence, there is evidence of a remarkably powerful, intergenerational effect on body size and total and central adiposity. Indians are highly susceptible to insulin resistance and cardiovascular risks, with babies being born small but relatively fat. Insulin resistance is amplified by rapid childhood growth. Dietary factors seem to have profound long-term metabolic influences in pregnancy. Overcrowding with infections and central obesity may amplify cytokine-induced insulin resistance and early diabetes in Indian adults with a low BMI.