Healthy Lifestyle Helps Prevent Gestational Diabetes in Individuals at Highest Risk

Investigators develop a genetic-risk score to identify those who would benefit now from lifestyle counseling to prevent the condition.

Investigators from the University of Helsinki have developed a genetic-risk score for identifying individuals who would benefit the most from lifestyle counseling to prevent gestational and postpartum diabetes.

Gestational diabetes has a significant impact on the health of the mother and child during pregnancy, as well as after delivery and is 1 of the most common health-related challenges during pregnancy, according to a statement.

Investigators examined the effects of lifestyle intervention on the prevention of gestational diabetes in women at high risk of developing the condition. They also found that prediabetes and diabetes 1 year after delivery were also more common among those with higher scores.

In the Finish Gestational Diabetes Prevention Study, known as RADIEL, individuals who were included received intensified dieting counseling and physical exercise during pregnancy and for the first year after delivery.

In the study, a polygenic risk score (PRS) describing the genetic risk of diabetes was calculated using a gene variant known to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D). The risk score for T2D was associated with elevated glucose levels in mid and late pregnancy and for the first year after delivery.

Investigators also found that the genetic risk also affected the link between lifestyle counseling and gestational diabetes as well as diabetes.

“Based on our research, intensified lifestyle interventions benefited only women at the highest genetic risk of developing type 2 diabetes,” Emilia Huvinen, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, said in the statement. “Our study offers one possible explanation for the contradictory results of previous studies investigating the prevention of gestational diabetes till now.”

The genetic risk scoring would help identify expectant mothers who were now at risk and also direct them to the most effective preventive measures and resources, according to investigators.

The study results are not only significant but globally unique as well, Huvinen said.

RADIEL was conducted between 2008 and 2013 in Helsinki and Lappeenranta in Finland and included individuals who had a high risk of diabetes during pregnancy, those who were already obese early in pregnancy, or women who had a history of gestational diabetes.

A total of 724 women were randomized to a control group or underwent the intensified dietary interventions and physical exercise 3 times during pregnancy and 3 times in the first year after delivery.

The dietary advice adhered to the Nordic dietary guidelines, with a total of 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per week recommended.

The PRS score for the genetic risk of diabetes was calculated using 50 known risk variants that are associated with T2D.

“It’s important to realize that, in the case of diabetes, our genetic background doesn’t determine our future. With the help of a healthy lifestyle, you can reverse the effect of a high genetic diabetes risk, ”Huvinen said.


A healthy lifestyle helps to prevent gestational diabetes in those at the highest genetic risk. EurekAlert. News release. May 4, 2022. Accessed May 4, 2022.

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