Aims/hypothesis: Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes risk in human subjects who were small-for-gestational-age (SGA) at birth may be a consequence of rapid early postnatal weight gain.
Materials and methods: We prospectively studied early changes in fasting insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion, assessed by a short intravenous glucose tolerance test that was conducted several times from birth to 3 years of age in 55 SGA (birthweight below fifth percentile) newborns and in 13 newborns with a birthweight appropriate for gestational age (AGA).
Results: Most SGA infants showed postnatal upward weight centile crossing and by 3 years were similar in size to AGA infants. SGA infants had lower pre-feed insulin levels at postnatal age 48 h than AGA infants (median 34.4 vs 59.7 pmol/l, p<0.05), but by the age of 3 years they had higher fasting insulin levels (median 38.9 vs 23.8 pmol/l, p<0.005), which were related to rate of weight gain between 0 and 3 years (r=0.47, p=0.0003). First-phase insulin secretion did not differ between SGA and AGA infants, but SGA infants had a lower glucose disposition index (beta cell compensation) (median 235 vs 501 min mmol(-1) l(-1), p=0.02), which persisted after allowing for postnatal weight gain (p=0.009).
Conclusions/interpretation: SGA infants showed a marked transition from lower pre-feed insulin and increased insulin sensitivity at birth to insulin resistance over the first 3 years of life. This transition was related to rapid postnatal weight gain, which could indicate a propensity to central fat deposition. The additional observation of reduced compensatory beta cell secretion underlines the need for long-term surveillance of glucose homeostasis in all SGA subjects, whether or not they show postnatal catch-up growth.