It has long been known that having relatives with Type 2 diabetes increases a person’s risk of developing the condition, but a new study from McGill University Health Center in Canada suggests that having a spouse with the condition may raise the risk as well. An estimated 26 million people in the United States have Type 2 diabetes.
To determine the importance of social and environmental factors such as poor eating habits and low physical activity on the development of Type 2, researchers conducted a meta-analysis (analysis of data from several clinical trials) on six studies involving a total of 75,498 couples. They assessed the risk of diabetes for each individual, taking into account factors such as age and socioeconomic status.
The investigators found that spouses of people with Type 2 diabetes had a 26% increased risk of developing the condition themselves. According to the research team, this suggests that living in the same environment and adopting the same eating, exercising, and social habits can influence the risk of developing Type 2. They also suggest that “assortative mating,” in which people seek spouses who are similar to themselves, may play a role.
“When we talk about family history of Type 2 diabetes, we generally assume that the risk increase that clusters in families results from genetic factors. What our analyses demonstrate is that risk is shared by spouses. This underscores the effects of shared environments, attitudes, and behaviors, which presumably underlie the shared risk,” noted senior study author Kaberi Dasgupta, MD, MSc, FRCPC. “The results of our review suggest that diabetes diagnosis in one spouse may warrant increased surveillance in the other.”
Limitations of the study include its reliance on data from health records, which may not always record diabetes and prediabetes. In studies where blood tests were used to determine whether a participant had diabetes, the results showed that the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes doubles for someone who has a spouse with the condition.
For more information, see the press release from McGill University or see the study in the journal BMC Medicine. And to learn more about dealing with diabetes as a family, read the article “When Diabetes Hits Home.”