Diabetes strikes harder at those who were poor as children, according to a new study that spans more than three decades. Participants who were disadvantaged in youth were more likely to develop diabetes than better-off peers were during the 34-year study time frame.
“Our study, among others, shows a strong, persistent effect of childhood socioeconomic position on the development of diabetes in adulthood, even after taking later-life socioeconomic position into account,” said lead author Siobhan Maty, an epidemiologist at the Portland State University School of Community Health in Oregon.
Maty and fellow researchers evaluated data from a study of adults ages 17 to 94 residing in Alameda County, Calif., from 1965 through 1999. Of the 5,913 participants, 307 developed diabetes during the 34 years. Almost 65 percent were from poor households in childhood. Fifty-four percent of those with diabetes were women.
“Type 2 diabetes can take 10 to 15 years to develop to the point where the individual is aware of signs and symptoms and seeks clinical care,” Maty said. The long study years allowed for “better estimation of the number of study participants who developed diabetes during that time period, and gives us enough cases to ensure statistically meaningful results,” she said.
Being overweight or obese as an adult further increased the risk of developing diabetes in this group.
Adam Drewnowski, a professor of epidemiology and director of the University of Washington Center for Obesity Research, has previously explored the link between obesity and poverty. “The fight against obesity and the eradication of poverty are, in fact, one and the same,” he said. “It is difficult to design effective weight control strategies without taking the root causes of obesity and diabetes into account.”
He added, “Some believe that the doors of opportunity have slammed shut. Childhood poverty is on the rise. Does it mean that we are becoming an obese nation? I am afraid that it does.”
Maty SC, et al. Childhood socioeconomic position, gender, adult body mass index and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus over 34 years in the Alameda County Study. Am J Public Health 98(8), 2008.
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