Press Releases

1997 Releases

Study Finds Dietary Factors Influence Diabetes Risk

For immediate release: February 11, 1997 

Boston, MA--A study by Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital investigators has found that women who have a diet with a high glycemic load (carbohydrates that increase blood glucose levels) and low intake of cereal fiber have 2 1/2 times the risk of developing adult onset diabetes compared to women with a low glycemic load and high cereal intake.

The study is published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Adult onset diabetes affects 14 million people in the U.S. Diabetes has been found to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke by six-fold in women and by three-to-four-fold in men, and is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults, kidney failure and nerve damage.

"Genetic risk, obesity and age have been associated with diabetes risk. We were interested in examining dietary factors which, if modified, could reduce this risk. Previous animal and metabolic studies had suggested a possible association. We undertook to examine this question prospectively in adult women," comments Walter Willett, MD, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School and a co-author on the study. The findings come from the Nurses' Health Study, directed by Frank Speizer, MD, professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School; professor of environmental science, HSPH. It is a longitudinal study of diet and lifestyle factors in relation to chronic disease among over 120,000 female registered nurses aged 30-55 years at enrollment in the study.

Examples of foods with a high glycemic load are white bread, mashed potatoes, french fries, and cola beverages; low glycemic load is found in whole grain breads, high fiber breakfast cereals, beans, and peanut butter. Comments co-author JoAnn Manson, MD, associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and principal investigator of the diabetes component of the Nurses' Health Study, "This work corroborates a previous study of Israeli men but involves a much larger study population followed prospectively. Because these results are so strong and consistent with previous evidence about the protective benefits of a high fiber diet, we suggest that grains be consumed in a minimally refined form to reduce the risk of diabetes."

She continues, "Other factors such as maintaining healthy weight and exercising regularly have been found to reduce diabetes risk. These results suggest that the composition of our diet may play an important role as well."

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu