Childhood Obesity Quadruples Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes

Obese children have a fourfold greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to normal-weight counterparts, according to a study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

Researchers led by Ali Abbasi, MD, PhD, of King’s College London in London, U.K., point out that there is little known about the link between obesity and diabetes in children and young adults. The team developed a cohort study that used electronic health records from one of the largest primary care databases worldwide, the U.K. Clinical Practice Research Datalink, to pull data from 375 general practices. The researchers examined BMI measurements, diabetes diagnosis records, and other data for 369,362 children between the ages of 2 and 15. “The present study aimed to evaluate the incidence and temporal trends of type 1 and type 2 diabetes and to estimate the risk of developing diabetes associated with elevated BMI in a cohort of children and young adults with BMI recorded from 1994 through 2013,” the authors write.

The researchers found 654 children and teenagers were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and 1,318 were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Children and teenagers with obesity constituted nearly half of the type 2 diabetes cases—308 in all. The study found no association between obesity and increased incidence of type 1 diabetes, which is linked to an underlying autoimmune disorder.

“As the prevalence of obesity and being overweight has rapidly risen, an increasing number of children and young adults have been diagnosed with diabetes in the United Kingdom since the early 1990s,” says Abbasi. “A child with obesity faces a four-fold greater risk of being diagnosed with diabetes by age 25 than a counterpart who is normal weight.”

The researchers conclude that increasing obesity rates are what’s contributing to the rise in type 2 diabetes – but not type 1, and that children with obesity face a quadrupled risk of developed type 2 diabetes. “Diabetes imposes a heavy burden on society because the condition is common and costly to treat,” Abbasi says. “Estimates indicate one in 11 adults has type 2 diabetes, or about 415 million people worldwide. Given that diabetes and obesity are preventable from early life, our findings and other research will hopefully motivate the public and policymakers to invest and engage in diabetes prevention efforts.”