Close on the heels of International Women’s Day 2011, comes the news of a path breaking research which puts the onus of a healthy generation on women. The research by the scientists from the University of Cambridge, provides important insight into why children born to mothers who consumed an unhealthy diet during pregnancy have an increased risk of health problems later in life. According to this research, poor diet can lead to abnormal development of the pancreatic beta cells which make insulin, the hormone vital for regulating blood sugar levels. This can trigger diabetes in adulthood as the cells “wear out” sooner than usual, said Susan Ozanne of the University of Cambridge, co-leader of the team.
“Having a healthy well-balanced diet any time in your life is important for your health,” she said, “but a healthy well-balanced diet during pregnancy is particularly important because of the impact on the baby in the long-term aspect.”
The warning comes after research found that rats which have poor nutrition during pregnancy gave birth to young with a high risk of type 2 diabetes, an illness that typically strikes in middle age.
According to Dr. Anoop Misra, “Women should be more addressed not only for diabetes but also for heart disease and should be targeted in a special way for prevention programmes. They gain weight in each pregnancy. As their age increases, weight also increases and so do chances of high blood sugar. Events preceding blood sugar elevation are more prevalent in women than in men. So we foresee that in future diabetes will be more prevalent in women.”
Unfortunately women are a neglected lot especially in developing countries. They are taught from early childhood to care for others at the cost of their own health and well-being. It is unlikely for a common Indian woman to go for mandatory health checkups, unless there are serious external symptoms of a disease. And then perhaps it becomes too late to take corrective action.
The tide of diabetes is rising in urban as well as rural India, with nearly 51 million Indians currently suffering from the disease. This number is expected to increase by 150% during the next 15 years.
“If the world doesn’t wake up, this thing will knock down generations,” said David Barker, a British doctor whose research has helped explain the origins of so-called lifestyle ailments and why they’re exploding in India and China. His hypothesis shows that nutrition and growth before birth and during early childhood alter the development of the heart and that people who had low birth weight are at greater risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Maternal health now has a relevant impact on future generations. Women who have a poor diet during pregnancy may have children who are more susceptible to age-related diseases than those who have a healthier diet. The issue of maternal nutrition should be taken seriously, as it could become a key diabetes and heart disease prevention strategy. With 55% of Indian women being anaemic and 48% of them being malnourished, Government efforts need to focus more on maternal and child health, and intervene at the maternal and foetal level. Whether the mother is excessively thin/malnourished or overweight-both conditions are fraught with danger for future generations. The diet which a mother eats has to be a balanced one. One must remember that a proper diet does not consist of expensive or fancy food items. It comprises locally grown vegetables, fruits, grains, lentils and dairy products.