Being overweight as an adult is the most important risk factor for diabetes, new research suggests. The results counter ideas that prenatal and early childhood experiences can “program” a youngster’s metabolism with characteristics that may lead to obesity and diabetes in later life.
“People should be living healthy lifestyles from as early in life as possible. But this study shows that it’s never too late. If you are overweight at age 50 you can still do something to lower your risk of developing diabetes,” says lead author Mark Pearce at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK.
Both animal research and epidemiological studies have found that poor fetal nutrition and growth can raise the risks for obesity and type II diabetes – a disease where the body becomes insensitive to the blood-sugar regulation hormone insulin. Adult obesity is a well known predictor of developing diabetes.
So to investigate the various influences of fetal and childhood growth as well as adult lifestyle and body fat, Pearce and his colleagues turned to the Newcastle Thousand Families cohort. This group contains every child born in the city of Newcastle in May and June of 1947. All 1142 children were monitored continuously until the age of 15, including measures of health and growth.
When the participants reached 50 years of age, 412 adults attended follow-up exams, including measures of adult body fat and tests for insulin resistance and secretion. Participants also completed questionnaires on their diet, exercise, smoking and drinking habits.