Black Women at a Higher Risk of Gestational Diabetes

Black women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy face a 52% increased risk of developing diabetes in the future compared to white women – as per a Kaiser Permanente study published in the journal, Diabetologia. In addition to facing this risk, black women are also generally more likely to develop Gestational Diabetes (GDM) itself, though the exact cause is unknown. This condition is considered a serious one, since it can have important short- and long-term consequences for mothers and their babies. Among the 700,000 women who give birth in England and Wales every year, up to 5% have either pre-existing or gestational diabetes.

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes mellitus is a condition in which a woman without diabetes develops high blood sugar levels while pregnant (these levels usually return to normal after giving birth). Its consequences are varied and can include an increased likelihood of caesarean birth, premature birth, preeclampsia, and even stillbirth. Having had GDM also ups the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future (for mothers) and of having GDM again in future pregnancies.

Why are Black Women at a Higher Risk?

The prevalence of GDM varies by race-ethnicity, with a study by W Fujimoto showing that rates are disparately high among black, Asian, Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic women. Studies on African-American women in the U.S. with GDM have shown that they have higher odds of cesarean delivery, preeclampsia, neonatal hypoglycemia, and preterm delivery, than other ethnic/racial groups. Scientists have not been able to pinpoint the reasons for the statistics. For this reason, black women should take extra care to reduce specific risk factors such as overweight and obesity.

Preparation Begins Before Pregnancy

To keep GDM at bay, it is vital to stay at a healthy weight even prior to pregnancy. Being overweight or obese is a known factor for this condition, as is excessive central body fat deposit, having a family history of diabetes, being less then 1.5m tall, having excessive fetal growth, hypertension, and other conditions. Losing 5% to 7% of your body weight prior to pregnancy can reduce your risk of developing diabetes as a whole. Staying on top of your weight can also put you in the right frame of mind required to stay at a healthy weight throughout your pregnancy.

The Importance of Exercise

Gov.uk states that around 62% of adults in the UK are overweight or obese, with black adults the most likely out of all ethnic groups to be battling excess weight. It adds that people from black, Asian, and other ethnic groups are also more likely to be physically inactive than those from other ethnic groups. Exercising both before and during pregnancy can help with weight maintenance, so try to work out for at least 30 minutes a day. If you are pregnant, ideal low-impact activities include walking and swimming. 

Because black women have a higher risk for GDM, they should be especially vigilant of issues like weight and physical activity. Glucose testing as prescribed by their doctors is also key, to ensure sugar levels are within a healthy range. Women with high blood glucose levels will often be placed on a special programme that includes making healthy food choices and exercise – which helps combat insulin resistance.

Katlyn Eriksen

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