Nav: Home

Global birth season study links environment with disease risk

November 14, 2017

New York, NY (November 14, 2017)--Studies have shown that babies born in winter tend to have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes at some point, while fall babies have a greater lifetime risk of depression. What might explain these curious connections? In a new analysis of health information from more than 10 million patients living in three countries and five different climates, data scientists have found that a woman's exposure to certain seasonal or environmental factors during pregnancy may affect her offspring's lifetime disease risk.

The findings were reported online in the September issue of the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

It has becoming increasingly clear that prenatal and early childhood environmental exposures can affect one's health in adulthood. However, studying these links poses special problems. "A conventional prospective study would be lengthy, costly, and above all else, unethical," said study leader Nicholas Tatonetti, PhD, an assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and in Columbia's Data Science Institute, and a co-author of the paper. "But we can address these questions by analyzing health records, looking for connections between birth month--as a proxy for environmental exposures--and actual health outcomes."

In a 2015 study, Dr. Tatonetti and Mary Regina Boland, PhD, a former CUMC graduate student who is now at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, analyzed the health records of 1.7 million patients in New York City, finding intriguing links between birth month and long-term disease risk. For instance, asthma risk was greatest for babies born in July and October.

"But that study didn't reveal what the mothers may have been exposed to during these months might account for the increased risk in their children," said Dr. Tatonetti. "To answer those questions, we needed to look at several countries, with a variety of climates and seasonal exposures."

The new study encompassed electronic health records from 10.5 million individuals from the U.S., South Korea, and Taiwan.

Using a method developed by Drs. Boland and Tatonetti, the study found that mothers who were exposed to low levels of sunlight during the third trimester of pregnancy had babies with an increased lifetime risk of type 2 diabetes. For babies born in New York City, having a birthday between December and March, when light levels are lowest, corresponded to an increased diabetes risk. A mother's increased exposure to fine air particulates during the first trimester was associated with her child's increased risk of atrial fibrillation (a potentially dangerous abnormal heart rhythm). Thus, in New York City, where air pollution is highest in the summer, giving birth during the winter--and experiencing the first trimester during summer--increased her child's risk for atrial fibrillation. Similarly, mothers who received higher doses of carbon monoxide, which varies depending on the location, during the first trimester had babies with an increased risk of depression and anxiety.

"All of our major findings linking birth seasonal patterns with variance in environmental exposures fit into known mechanistic pathways," said Dr. Boland, the first author of the current study. "This is crucial because it demonstrates the utility of our method and further underscores the importance of environmental exposures during development and the impact they may have throughout life."

Dr. Tatonetti, the senior author of the paper, further explained, "For example, a mother's exposure to fine air particulates raises her risk for high blood pressure, which is associated with high blood pressure in the offspring. And high blood pressure, in turn, is associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation. Basically, we're using the data to connect the dots. And by clarifying these connections, it may be possible to find new ways to prevent disease--such as recommending seasonal dosing for some prenatal supplements."

The study also demonstrated that the strongest factor in determining whether a child would later be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was not birth season. Rather, children who were younger than their peers at the time they were enrolled in school had a higher risk of ADHD, with an 18 percent difference in risk between the youngest and oldest children. While the findings of this study are similar to those of single-country studies, this is the first to investigate relative age and disease in multiple countries with four different school enrollment cutoff dates.

"Overall, our findings demonstrate the importance of environmental factors, including socio-environmental factors such as relative age, on the development of childhood diseases," said Dr. Boland.
The study is titled, "Uncovering exposures responsible for birth season - disease effects: a global study." The other contributors and disclosures can be found in the online publication.

Funding for the study was provided by the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine and grants from the National Library of Medicine, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health (TL1 TR000082, TL1 RR024158, and UL1 TR000423), the University of Washington, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, and the Korea Health Technology R&D Project of the Korea Health Industry Development Institute, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Republic of Korea.

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, preclinical, and clinical research; medical and health sciences education; and patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and State and one of the largest faculty medical practices in the Northeast. The campus that Columbia University Medical Center shares with its hospital partner, NewYork-Presbyterian, is now called the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. For more information, visit or

Columbia University Medical Center

Related Diabetes Articles:

The role of vitamin A in diabetes
There has been no known link between diabetes and vitamin A -- until now.
Can continuous glucose monitoring improve diabetes control in patients with type 1 diabetes who inject insulin
Two studies in the Jan. 24/31 issue of JAMA find that use of a sensor implanted under the skin that continuously monitors glucose levels resulted in improved levels in patients with type 1 diabetes who inject insulin multiple times a day, compared to conventional treatment.
Complications of type 2 diabetes affect quality of life, care can lead to diabetes burnout
T2D Lifestyle, a national survey by Health Union of more than 400 individuals experiencing type 2 diabetes (T2D), reveals that patients not only struggle with commonly understood complications, but also numerous lesser known ones that people do not associate with diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes and obesity -- what do we really know?
Social and economic factors have led to a dramatic rise in type 2 diabetes and obesity around the world.
A better way to predict diabetes
An international team of researchers has discovered a simple, accurate new way to predict which women with gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes after delivery.
The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology: Older Americans with diabetes living longer without disability, US study shows
Older Americans with diabetes born in the 1940s are living longer and with less disability performing day to day tasks than those born 10 years earlier, according to new research published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.
Reverse your diabetes -- and you can stay diabetes-free long-term
A new study from Newcastle University, UK, has shown that people who reverse their diabetes and then keep their weight down remain free of diabetes.
New cause of diabetes
Although insulin-producing cells are found in the endocrine tissue of the pancreas, a new mouse study suggests that abnormalities in the exocrine tissue could cause cell non-autonomous effects that promotes diabetes-like symptoms.
The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology: Reducing sugar content in sugar-sweetened drinks by 40 percent over 5 years could prevent 1.5 million cases of overweight and obesity in the UK and 300,000 cases of diabetes
A new study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal suggests that reducing sugar content in sugar sweetened drinks (including fruit juices) in the UK by 40 percent over five years, without replacing them with any artificial sweeteners, could prevent 500,000 cases of overweight and 1 million cases of obesity, in turn preventing around 300,000 cases of type 2 diabetes, over two decades.
Breastfeeding lowers risk of type 2 diabetes following gestational diabetes
Women with gestational diabetes who consistently and continuously breastfeed from the time of giving birth are half as likely to develop type 2 diabetes within two years after delivery, according to a study from Kaiser Permanente published today in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Related Diabetes Reading:

Bright Spots & Landmines: The Diabetes Guide I Wish Someone Had Handed Me
by Adam Brown (Author), Kelly L. Close (Foreword)

Adam Brown’s acclaimed diaTribe column, Adam’s Corner, has brought life-transforming diabetes tips to over 1 million people since 2013. In this highly actionable guide, he shares the food, mindset, exercise, and sleep strategies that have had the biggest positive impact on his diabetes – and hopefully yours too! Bright Spots & Landmines is filled with hundreds of effective diabetes tips, questions, and shortcuts, including what to eat to minimize blood sugar swings; helpful strategies to feel less stressed, guilty, and burned out; and simple ways to improve exercise and... View Details

The End of Diabetes: The Eat to Live Plan to Prevent and Reverse Diabetes
by Dr. Joel Fuhrman (Author)

The New York Times bestselling author of Eat to Live and Super Immunity and one of the country’s leading experts on preventive medicine offers a scientifically proven, practical program to prevent and reverse diabetes—without drugs.

At last, a breakthrough program to combat the rising diabetes epidemic and help millions of diabetics, as well as those suffering with high blood pressure and heart disease. Joel Fuhrman, M.D. Research director of the Nutritional Research Foundation, shows you how to live a long, healthy, and happy life—disease free. He... View Details

Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes Without Drugs
by Neal Barnard M.D. (Author)

Tackle diabetes and its complications for good with this newly updated edition of Dr. Neal Barnard's groundbreaking program.

Revised and updated, this latest edition of Dr. Barnard’s groundbreaking book features a new preface, updates to diagnostic and monitoring standards, recent research studies, and fresh success stories of people who have eliminated their diabetes by following this life-changing plan.

Before Dr. Barnard’s scientific breakthrough, most health professionals believed that once you developed diabetes, you were stuck with it―and could anticipate one... View Details

Diabetes For Dummies
by Alan L. Rubin (Author)

The straight facts on treating diabetes successfully

With diabetes now considered pandemic throughout the world, there have been enormous advances in the field. Now significantly revised and updated, this new edition of Diabetes For Dummies includes the latest information on diabetes medications and monitoring equipment, new findings about treating diabetes in the young and elderly, new ways to diagnose and treat long- and short-term complications, updated nutritional guidelines, new tools for measuring blood sugar and delivering insulin to the body, and much more.

There's... View Details

Choose Your Foods: Food Lists for Diabetes
by American Diabetes Association (Author)

The standard for diabetes meal planning for over 60 years, this edition features updated carbohydrate, protein, and fat information for a wide variety of foods and beverages and replaces exchange terminology with choices. Includes tips on exercise, reading food labels, and a glossary of diabetes related terms. View Details

The Official Pocket Guide to Diabetic Food Choices
by American Diabetes Association ADA (Author)

Completely updated to match the newest edition of Choose Your Foods: Food Lists for Diabetes Meal Planning, this pocket-sized guide is now better and more complete than ever.

Every day and at every meal, millions of people use the food list system to plan meals, make healthier choices, and better estimate portions. This proven system is the most popular approach to diabetes meal planning and has been used by dietitians, diabetes educators, and millions of people with diabetes for more than 70 years. This portable version of the Food Lists takes all of the information from... View Details

Diabetic Living Diabetes Meals by the Plate: 90 Low-Carb Meals to Mix & Match
by Diabetic Living Editors (Author)

An easy, graphic guide to planning delicious, diabetes-friendly meals This innovative, graphic cookbook offers the easiest and most flavorful way to build complete meals that are diabetes-friendly and delicious. Sidestepping complex programs that turn meal-planning into work, the 90 complete meals in Diabetes Meals by the Plate follow the Plate Method—a simple approach to eating the right foods in proper amounts by filling your plate with one half nonstarchy vegetables, one quarter protein, and one quarter starch. A clever photo style showing every meal in its three... View Details

Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars
by Richard K. Bernstein (Author)

9780316182690 Features: -Title: Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution. -Sub title: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars. -ISBN: 0316182699. -ISBN 13: 9780316182690. -General subject: Health and fitness. -Subject: Health and fitness / diseases / diabetes. Subject: -Health & Fitness. Country of Manufacture: -United States. Age Group: -Adults. Dimensions: Overall Height - Top to Bottom: -1.75". Overall Width - Side to Side: -9.75". Overall Depth - Front to Back: -6.5". Overall Product Weight: -1.8 lbs. View Details

The First Year: Type 2 Diabetes: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed (The Complete First Year)
by Gretchen Becker (Author), Allison B. Goldfine (Author)

The go-to step-by-step guide that walks you through the first days, weeks, and months of your diagnosis–fully revised and updated

Gretchen Becker was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1996; over the past twenty years, she has educated herself on every aspect of the condition by reading medical texts and journals, talking with doctors, and corresponding with others who have type 2, sharing everything she's learned in a comprehensive, easy-to-use guide. Now in its third edition, The First Year: Type 2 Diabetes takes you through everything you need to learn and do in your... View Details

Taste of Home Diabetes Cookbook: Eat right, feel great with 370 family-friendly, crave-worthy dishes!
by Taste of Home (Editor)

Eat what you love and feel great with Taste of Home Diabetes Cookbook!

Looking to eat healthier?
Need to cut back on sugar and carbs?
Cooking for someone on a special diet?

With Taste of Home Diabetes Cookbook it’s a snap to serve mouthwatering sensations that everyone at the table will savor…whether they’re following a diabetic diet or not. Inside this all-new collection, you’ll find 370 mouthwatering dishes, each accompanied by a complete set of Nutrition Facts and Diabetic Exchanges. All of these must-try recipes were reviewed by a... View Details

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

The Consequences Of Racism
What does it mean to be judged before you walk through the door? What are the consequences? This week, TED speakers delve into the ways racism impacts our lives, from education, to health, to safety. Guests include poet and writer Clint Smith, writer and activist Miriam Zoila Pérez, educator Dena Simmons, and former prosecutor Adam Foss.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#465 How The Nose Knows
We've all got a nose but how does it work? Why do we like some smells and not others, and why can we all agree that some smells are good and some smells are bad, while others are dependant on personal or cultural preferences? We speak with Asifa Majid, Professor of Language, Communication and Cultural Cognition at Radboud University, about the intersection of culture, language, and smell. And we level up on our olfactory neuroscience with University of Pennsylvania Professor Jay Gottfried.