Losing excess weight in childhood decreases diabetes risk

New research in the New England Journal of Medicine April 5 suggests a reduction in body mass index (BMI) before puberty may decrease an individual’s risk of developing diabetes.

“Our results show the importance of prevention and treatment of overweight in children, especially before they reach puberty, as this can potentially reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life significantly,” said co-author Jennifer L. Baker, PhD, with the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centre for Basic Metabolic Research and University of Copenhagen in Denmark​.

The researchers conducted a study using height and weight measurements of more than 62,000 men, measured at the ages of 7, 13 and between 17 to 26 during a conscription exam.

More than 6,700 men in the study cohort had a type 2 diabetes diagnosis in adulthood.

The risk of developing diabetes was the highest among men who were overweight at the age of 13 and those who had been overweight between 7 and 13. Both groups had four times higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to men who had standard weight at all ages.

The men who were recoded as being overweight between the ages of 17 and 26 had a three times higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. 

“Our study shows that overweight boys who manage to normalize their BMI before puberty and to maintain the standard weight until being weighed in connection with the conscription examination had the same risk of developing type 2 diabetes as boys displaying standard weight at the age of seven and until the conscription examination weighing,” said co-author Lise G. Bjerregaard, with the Centre for Clinical Research and Prevention, Bispebjerg and Frederiksberg Hospitals in Copenhagen.

Though prepubescent boys who lose weight before their conscription exam can reduce their risk of developing diabetes later in life, the researchers noted they cannot fully eliminate the risk.