An article set to appear in the May issue of the journal Diabetes Care is garnering widespread media attention today, as it declares that the prevalence of pre-existing diabetes in women who become pregnant has doubled over the past several years. Diabetes can cause serious complications for both women and fetuses during pregnancy.
The authors looked at data for women in Southern California who gave birth to a single baby >20 weeks gestation in one hospital system. They looked at how many women had pre-existing or gestational diabetes, and how the prevalence of diabetes changed over time. The authors found that the overall prevalence of pre-existing diabetes more than doubled from 1999 to 2005, from 0.81 to 1.82 women with the condition per 100 births, with younger women and black women experiencing the largest increases. The researchers did not find a similar change in gestational diabetes, which remained fairly stable.
CDC data indicates that the prevalence of diabetes has risen across all age groups from 1980 to 2005, so it seems somewhat predictable that as more women have diabetes, more births to diabetic women will occur. An important aspect of this issue is that preconception counseling, careful monitoring and control of glucose levels, and intensive following by healthcare providers is generally recommended for women with diabetes who are or plan to become pregnant. One physician who spoke to the Washington Post about the findings stated that “Control isn’t easy to do, because you have to have adequate nutrition and still control your blood sugar.” In other words, the issue isn’t just about headline-friendly risks to babies, but touches on whether women lack appropriate access to affordable healthcare, healthy nutritious foods, and information about the disease and the ability to monitor it closely.