Type 1 diabetes is the most common metabolic disorder in childhood. But what effects does this condition have when sufferers themselves have children? It was already known that children of parents with type 1 diabetes are at much higher risk of developing the disease than the rest of the population. “Moreover, there were also sporadic indications from previous studies that children of mothers with type 1 diabetes are also at increased risk of having metabolic syndrome, as the intermittent high blood glucose levels in the uterus appear to have long-term effects on the child’s metabolism and body weight,“ explains Dr. Andreas Beyerlein. “We now had the possibility to investigate this hypothesis with a large and appropriate dataset,” adds the statistician and epidemiologist, who led the study together with Prof. Dr. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler from the Institute of Diabetes Research at Helmholtz Zentrum München.
Nearly 2,800 children followed over an 18 year period
The starting point for their work were three large studies aimed at understanding the mechanisms underlying type 1 diabetes (TEENDIAB, BABYDIAB and BABYDIET). “In total, we studied data from nearly 2,800 children with a first-degree relative with type 1 diabetes,” explains lead author Anitha Pitchika. “Their metabolic status and body weight were tracked up to the age of 18.” “This analysis was possible only now with our dataset which contains such a large number of mothers with type 1 diabetes,” adds Anette-Gabriele Ziegler. “A few decades ago, mothers with this condition were often advised not to get pregnant due to the high risk of complications at birth.”
The researchers found that children of mothers with type 1 diabetes had a significantly higher body mass index than children from mothers without diabetes. “Children in the TEENDIAB study were for instance almost twice as likely to become overweight,” explains Andreas Beyerlein. Other parameters, such as waist circumference, fasting blood glucose level and risk for insulin resistance, were also significantly higher if the mother had type 1 diabetes. The scientists corrected for a number of possible confounding factors, such as the mother’s socioeconomic status and high birth weight.
To find out to what extent the differences were due to fundamental changes in the child’s metabolism, the researchers collected metabolomics data from 500 children in the TEENDIAB study. As it turned out, however, they did not find any significant changes in metabolic products and pathways caused by maternal type 1 diabetes.
“Our study shows that children of mothers with type 1 diabetes are not only at significantly higher risk of having the condition itself, but are also at greater risk of being overweight and developing insulin resistance,” says Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, summarizing the findings. “We would therefore advise that paediatricians should bear this correlation in mind, so that they can react on early warning signs in such children.”
The Helmholtz Zentrum München, the German Research Center for Environmental Health, pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich and has about 2,300 staff members. It is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members.
The Institute of Diabetes Research (IDF) focuses on the pathogenesis and prevention of type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes and the long-term effects of gestational diabetes. A major project is the development of an insulin vaccination against type 1 diabetes. The IDF conducts long-term studies to examine the link between genes, environmental factors and the immune system for the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes. Findings of the BABYDIAB study, which was established in 1989 as the world’s first prospective birth cohort study, identified risk genes and antibody profiles. These permit predictions to be made about the pathogenesis and onset of type 1 diabetes and will lead to changes in the classification and the time of diagnosis. The IDF is part of the Helmholtz Diabetes Center (HDC).
The Technical University of Munich (TUM) is one of Europe’s leading research universities, with around 550 professors, 41,000 students, and 10,000 academic and non-academic staff. Its focus areas are the engineering sciences, natural sciences, life sciences and medicine, combined with economic and social sciences. TUM acts as an entrepreneurial university that promotes talents and creates value for society. In that it profits from having strong partners in science and industry. It is represented worldwide with the TUM Asia campus in Singapore as well as offices in Beijing, Brussels, Cairo, Mumbai, San Francisco, and São Paulo. Nobel Prize winners and inventors such as Rudolf Diesel, Carl von Linde, and Rudolf Mößbauer have done research at TUM. In 2006 and 2012 it won recognition as a German „Excellence University.“ In international rankings, TUM regularly places among the best universities in Germany.
Contact for the Media:
Department of Communication, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg, Germany – Tel. +49 (0)89 3187 2238 – E-mail:
contact for scientific information:
Dr. Andreas Beyerlein, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Institute of Computational Biology, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg, Germany – Tel. +49 89 3187 49692 – E-mail:
Pitchika, A. et al. (2018): Associations of maternal type 1 diabetes with childhood adiposity and metabolic health in the offspring: prospective cohort study. Diabetologia, DOI: 10.1007/s00125-018-4688-x