Married Couples Share Risk of Developing Diabetes
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University have discovered a connection between the BMI of one spouse and the other spouse’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The researchers therefore believe that efforts to detect undiagnosed diabetes and so-called prediabetes should not focus exclusively on the individual, but also on couples and households.
It can be a good idea to bring your spouse to a GP medical examination if you are obese. Because Danish researchers from the Departments of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University have in a new study found a connection between the BMI of one spouse and the other spouse’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
‘We have discovered that you can predict a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes based on his or her partner’s BMI. This means that you can tell whether a person has a heightened risk or not on the basis of the partner’s BMI’, says Postdoc Jannie Nielsen, who is the first author of the study, which has been published in the scientific journal Diabetologia.
The three researchers have examined data from 3,649 men and 3,478 women from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing in the UK. In the UK, it is estimated that five million Britons have a high risk of developing diabetes.
The researchers have no reason to believe that the results of the English data do not apply to the Danish population, Jannie Nielsen explains.
In Denmark 60,000 individuals are estimated to suffer from type 2 diabetes without knowing it, while 300,000 are believed to have symptoms of pre-diabetes. The disease costs society billions of kroner each year.
Difference Between Men and Women
From other studies the researchers knew that spouses are often similar in terms of body weight, among other things because people often marry someone similar to themselves and often share dietary and exercise habits when living together.
Therefore, the researchers also examined whether the heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes of an obese woman, for example, was merely a result of her own body weight. Here the researchers found a difference between the two sexes.
‘If we adjusted for the women’s own weight, they did not have a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes as a result of their husband’s BMI. But even when we adjusted for the weight in men, they had a heightened risk’, says Jannie Nielsen.
Diabetes in society
More than 250,000 Danes have been diagnosed with diabetes. It is estimated, though, that 300,000 Danes are experiencing initial stages of type 2 diabetes, so-called pre-diabetes.
The number of Danes suffering from diabetes is rising steadily. From 2000 to 2016 the number more than doubled. According to an extrapolation, the number of Danes suffering from type 2 diabetes will have increased to 430,000 by 2030.
The disease costs the Danish society around DKK 86 million every day or DKK 31.8 billion each year.
Source: Danish Diabetes Association.
A man, whose wife had a BMI of 30 kg/m2, had a 21-per cent higher risk of developing diabetes than men whose wives had a BMI of 25 kg/m2 – regardless of the man’s own BMI.
The researchers have not examined why only the men still had a heightened risk after own weight adjustment. They do have a theory, though, which involves who is in charge of the household.
‘We believe it is because women generally decide what we eat at home. That is, women have greater influence on their spouse’s dietary habits than men do’, Jannie Nielsen explains and refers, among other things, to a US study, which showed that women more often than men are responsible for doing the household’s cooking and shopping.
Early Detection Is Vital
Diabetes can cause complications and serious sequelae such as damage to the heart, kidneys and eyes. According to the Danish Diabetes Association, 35 per cent experience complications by the time they are diagnosed with diabetes. Therefore, early detection is vital.
’The earlier a disease is detected, the higher the potential for successful prevention and treatment. We know that type 2 diabetes can be prevented or postponed, reducing the number of years that patients have to live with the disease. Just as related complications can be postponed through early detection’, says Jannie Nielsen.
If type 2 diabetes is detected at an early stage, medical treatment can be postponed, and instead the patient can begin with lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet and doing more physical exercise.
Based on the study, Jannie Nielsen believes that early detection of type 2 diabetes can be improved if we change our approach to the disease.
‘Our approach to type 2 diabetes should not focus on the individual, but instead on, for example, the entire household. If a woman has a heightened risk, there is a strong probability that it is shared by her husband’.
‘We know that men are less inclined to go to the doctor. So if a woman comes to her GP with risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the GP should therefore perhaps ask her to bring her husband next time’, says Jannie Nielsen.
The study was funded by a postdoc scholarship from the Independent Research Fund Denmark and conducted in collaboration with Postdoc Adam Hulman and Professor Daniel R. Witte from the Department of Public Health at Aarhus University.
Postdoc Jannie Nielsen
Press officer Cecilie Krabbe