Pregnant Women Exposed To Cold Temperatures May Have Lower Risk of Gestational Diabetes Interview with:

Dr. Gillian Booth PhD Researcher at St. Michael's and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES)

Dr.Gillian Booth

Dr. Gillian Booth PhD
Researcher at St. Michael’s and the
Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The impact of climate change on health is becoming increasingly relevant given the rise in global air temperature, and there is growing evidence supporting a link between air temperature, metabolic function, and energy expenditure. We know from animal models and small studies in humans that cold exposure and activate a type of fat known as brown fat and it appears that this process can improve sensitivity to insulin. However no studies have yet looked at air temperature and the development of diabetes. So we decided to examine the relationship between outdoor air temperature and gestational diabetes – a temporary form of diabetes that arises in the second trimester of pregnancy. What are the main findings?

Response: We found that the prevalence of gestational diabetes was 4.6 per cent among women exposed to extremely cold average temperatures (equal to or below -10 C) in the 30-day period prior to being screened for gestational diabetes, and increased to 7.7 per cent among those exposed to hot average temperatures (above 24 C). We also found that for every 10-degree Celsius rise in temperature, women were six to nine per cent more likely to develop gestational diabetes. The association between air temperature and gestational diabetes were seen in women born in hot climates and those born in colder climates. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Changes in temperature of this magnitude may only lead to a small relative increase in the risk of gestational diabetes, but the absolute number of women impacted in Canada and elsewhere may be substantial.  Furthermore the risk factors for gestational diabetes and adult onset type 2 diabetes are virtually the same. The results of this study could therefore foreshadow the effects of global warming on adult onset diabetes in general.

These findings have important implications for the prevention and management of gestational diabetes and suggest that modifying one’s thermal environment might influence the risk of gestational diabetes (example, turning down the thermostat and getting outside in the winter; and using air conditioning in summer, avoiding excess layers in hot weather). What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Our findings fit a pattern we expected from new studies showing that cold exposure can improve your sensitivity to insulin, by turning on a protective type of fat called brown adipose tissue, but the biological mechanism for the association we observed in this study requires further investigation. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: This study received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Gillian L. Booth, Jin Luo, Alison L. Park, Denice S. Feig, Rahim Moineddin, Joel G. Ray. Influence of environmental temperature on risk of gestational diabetes. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2017; 189 (19): E682 DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.160839

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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