That diabetes tends to run in families has been long established. It’s not surprising — many diseases have a genetic component. But what about people who are not related?
Somewhat surprisingly, a recent large study has determined that spouses or live-in partners of people recently diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to develop diabetes themselves within a year.
The researchers examined several years’ worth of data collected from Kaiser Permanente Northern California, a managed health-care consortium and health plan covering more than three million people. They looked at the average annual rate of new diabetes cases among plan members between the ages of 18 and 79. Whether the members had Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes wasn’t specified, but by far the majority of cases diagnosed in adults are Type 2. Then the researchers estimated the annual rates of new diagnoses of diabetes in the spouses and live-in partners of the first group. Finally, they took both rates and compared them to figures from the general U.S. population as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
After analyzing all the data, they discovered women who had spouses or partners newly diagnosed with diabetes had a 90% higher risk of developing diabetes than women in the overall population. For men, the risk was even higher.
Obviously, genetics were not a factor here. The researchers instead pointed to “environmental factors” — both partners in the relationship must have been exposed to conditions conducive to developing diabetes. One reviewer of the study pointed out that the researchers did not account for the body-mass index (BMI) of the members. (BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.) Partners who share a lifestyle conducive to gaining weight are more likely to develop diabetes, since obesity is a key determining factor. Another factor — one the researchers plan to account for in follow-up studies — is that spouses and partners of people newly diagnosed with diabetes are more likely to take a blood test to see if they also might have diabetes.
The researchers said probably the most important conclusion to be drawn from their study affects doctors. When meeting with a patient who has newly been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s probably a good idea for a doctor to suggest his or her spouse or partner be tested. It might not be necessary to request a blood test, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to look at such factors as lifestyle, age, and weight. But perhaps anyone whose spouse or partner has been newly diagnosed might start thinking about his or her chances of having diabetes.