Does Marriage Increase Risk of Diabetes?

A Scandinavian study suggests the risk for diabetes is influenced by the home environment and especially by your partner. Danish researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University have found a connection between the BMI of one spouse and the other spouse’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Prevention of diabetes is a major public health goal as the disease has serious complications, some of which may have developed by the time the disease is detected. Investigators discovered the risk of diabetes is shared among the entire household, not just one partner.

In the new study, researcher’s examined data from 3,649 men and 3,478 women from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging in the UK. They found men had a greater chance of developing diabetes dependent upon their wife’s body mass index. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women.

“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,” said Dr. Jannie Nielsen, first author of the study.

The study appears in the scientific journal Diabetologia.

On a global scale, 422 million adults have diabetes, according to the World Health Organization. And it is estimated 1,5 million deaths are caused by the disease. According to the CDC, more than 100 million U.S. adults are now living with diabetes or prediabetes. Specifically, as of 2015, 30.3 million Americans – 9.4 percent of the U.S. population – have diabetes.

Prior studies have shown 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.

In the current study, researchers 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, or if other factors influenced development of the disease.

This examination led the researchers to find 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,” Nielsen said.

A man whose wife had a BMI of 30 kg/m2 had a 21 percent 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,” Nielsen said. She cited a U.S. study which showed that women more often than men are responsible for doing the household’s cooking and shopping.

Diabetes can cause complications and serious sequelae such as damage to the heart, kidneys and eyes. According to the Danish Diabetes Association, 35 percent 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,” Nielsen said.

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 getting more physical exercise.

Based on the study, 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 physician with risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the physician should therefore perhaps ask her to bring her husband next time,” Nielsen said.

Source: University of Copenhagen

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