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Epidemiology Branch (EB)

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EB Research - Perinatal Epidemiology

Gestational Diabetes Mellitus - Epidemiology, Etiology, and Health Consequences

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), one of the most common complications of pregnancy, is related to substantial short-term and long-term adverse health outcomes for both women and their offspring. Understanding the epidemiology and etiology of GDM is critical for the development of effective and targeted intervention strategies to prevent GDM and to interrupt the vicious cycle across generations involving maternal GDM, childhood obesity and impaired glucose metabolism, and adulthood onset diabetes. Along this line of research, a series of studies have been conducted and are under study. These include:

  • Identification of risk factors, for instance, diet and lifestyle factors, reproductive factors, early life risk factors, and genetic factors, for the development of GDM and its recurrence. In collaboration with investigators at the Harvard School of Public Health and other institutes, a number of novel risk factors have been identified and additional risk factors are currently under study based on data from the Nurses' Health Study II and the Consortium on Safe Labor.
  • Investigation of the pathogenesis of GDM using prospectively and longitudinally collected biospecimens from pregnancy cohorts, such as the NICHD Fetal Growth Study. Currently, this line of research focuses on a comprehensive panel of biochemical markers that are putatively implicated in glucose homeostasis, fetal growth, or both. Targeted and non-targeted metabolomics are being analyzed for the discovery of new pathways and/or biochemical markers related to glucose intolerance and subsequent adverse fetal outcomes.
  • Investigation of the impact and underlying mechanisms of how a hyperglycemic intrauterine environment affects short-term and long-term health outcomes in the offspring based on multiple datasets, for instance, the Diabetes & Women's Health Study and the Consortium on Safe Labor.

Principal Investigator

Cuilin Zhang, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.

DIPHR Collaborators


  • Zhang C, Bao W, Rong Y, Yang H, Bowers K, Yeung E, Kiely M. Genetic variants and the risk of gestational diabetes mellitus. Hum Reprod Update, 2013 19(4):376-90. PMID: 23690305
  • Bowers K, Laughon SK, Kiely M, Brite J, Chen Z, Zhang C. Gestational diabetes, pre-pregnancy obesity and pregnancy weight gain in relation to excess fetal growth: variations by race/ethnicity. Diabetologia, 2013 56(6):1263-71. PMID: 23571827
  • Bao W, Bowers K, Tobias DK, Hu FB, Zhang C. Prepregnancy dietary protein intake, major dietary protein sources, and the risk of gestational diabetes mellitus: a prospective cohort study. Diabetes Care, 2013 36(7):2001-8. PMID:    23378620
  • Tobias DK, Chavarro JE, Williams MA, Buck Louis GM, Hu FB, Rich-Edwards J, ScD, Missmer SA, Zhang C. History of infertility and risk of gestational diabetes mellitus: a prospective analysis of 40,773 pregnancies. Am J Epidemiol (In Press).
  • Bowers K, Laughon SK, Kim S, Mumford SL, Brite J, Kiely M, Zhang C. The association between a medical history of depression and gestational diabetes in a large multi-ethnic cohort of the United States. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol, 2013;27(4):323-8. PMID: 23772933.
  • Bowers K, Tobias D, Yeung E, Hu FB, Zhang C. A prospective study of pre-pregnancy dietary fat intake and risk for gestational diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr, 2012;95:446-53. PMID: 22218158
  • Bowers K, Tobias DK, Yeung E, Hu FB, Zhang C. A prospective study of prepregnancy dietary fat intake and risk of gestational diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95(2):446-453. PMID: 22218158
  • Chen L, Hu FB, Yeung E, Tobias DK, Willett WC, Zhang C. Prepregnancy consumption of fruits and fruit juices and the risk of gestational diabetes mellitus: a prospective cohort study. Diabetes Care. 2012;35(5):1079-1082. PMID: 22446174
  • Tobias DK, Zhang C, Chavarro J, Bowers K, Rich-Edwards J, Rosner B, Mozaffarian D, Hu FB. Prepregnancy adherence to dietary patterns and lower risk of gestational diabetes mellitus. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(2):289-295. PMID: 22760563
Last Reviewed: 11/16/2015

Contact Information

Name: Dr Enrique Fabian Schisterman
Chief and Senior Investigator
Epidemiology Branch
Phone: 301-435-6893
Fax: 301-402-2084

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