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Research news from the EASD: preventing type 2 diabetes

We’ve already taken a look at highlights from the virtual European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) conference about research that will help people with diabetes to live better, more confident lives. Now we take a look at the research that will help fewer people to develop type 2 diabetes.

Predicting who is likely to develop type 2 diabetes during their lives is the first essential step in preventing this condition from occurring in the first place. When we know who is at high risk, we can step in and provide the support needed to stop diabetes in its tracks or, if that’s not possible, to catch it early and minimise its impact on health.

While we already know a lot about risk factors for type 2, research is continuing to uncover more about who is most at risk and why. And as we become better able to identify those most at risk and tailor support for their needs, we’ll become more successful in preventing type 2 diabetes.

Genes vs lifestyle

A study presented at the EASD conference by Dr Wang and colleagues, from the Erasmus University Medical Centre, followed for nearly 18 years 5,993 people from the Netherlands who did not have a diagnosis of diabetes at the start of the study. They wanted to see whether the participants’ genes or lifestyle factors contributed most to the likelihood of them developing type 2 diabetes over the course of the study.

Fifteen percent of participants went on to develop type 2 diabetes. Those with the most healthy lifestyle were found to have the lowest risk of developing type 2 diabetes, regardless whether they had a high or low genetic risk of developing the condition. This study is a welcome reminder that although our genes can put us at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, our genes are not our destiny. A healthy lifestyle - involving managing weight, eating healthily and being active - remains really important for reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In sickness and in health

While we know that it’s important to take steps to manage our own individual type 2 diabetes risk , research presented by Dr Silverman-Retana  from Aarhus University in Denmark highlighted that encouraging our loved ones to do the same might also be beneficial. The researchers studied 172 married, middle-aged couples and looked to see how the health behaviours of one partner influenced the other partner.  For men, the strongest factor at play was the diet of their wives – if their wives ate a healthy diet, they were more likely to. Women were most influenced by their husbands’ activity levels: if their husbands were really active, they were more likely to be active.

While more research is needed to see how this plays out in younger and non-hetrosexual couples, these findings suggest that our partner’s lifestyle can influence our own risk of developing type 2, and, therefore, that some prevention initiatives might see more success if targeted at couples rather than individuals.

Overlapping health conditions

Knowing that certain health conditions are linked to a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes is important. It can help healthcare professionals to be extra vigilant for signs of type 2 diabetes, and take steps to reduce diabetes risk, in people with these conditions. Findings from two new large reviews announced at the EASD conference have shed new light on this.

The review by Dr Zhao and colleagues from the University of Toronto involving data from over 3 million people showed that women who had a hypertensive disorder in pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia, had an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Another review by Dr Tian and colleagues from the University of Manchester involving data from over 1.5 million people suggested that those with rheumatoid arthritis are also at increased risk of type 2. These findings are reminder that healthcare professionals should be keeping an eye out for signs of diabetes in people with rheumatoid arthritis and those that experienced a hypertensive disorder in pregnancy.

Research like the studies above are important pieces of the type 2 diabetes risk puzzle but there are still gaps to fill. As we add more pieces to this picture, we’ll get better at intervening early and stopping the condition from developing in more people. You can your find out your own risk of developing type 2 diabetes by using our Know Your Risk Tool.  

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