Weight loss can protect overweight boys from developing type 2 diabetes

Preventing and treating overweight in prepubescent teenagers can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new study shows that overweight seven year olds have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes as adults, but only if they are still overweight by the time they hit puberty and beyond.

It’s well known that overweight in childhood leads to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes later in life. Our research has previously shown that children who weigh just a couple of kilograms too much have a much higher chance of developing the disease, and that this effect is more pronounced in girls than boys.

But in this study we didn’t have information from adults, for which we received some criticism, for exclusively studying child and not adult body mass indices (BMIs). This meant that we couldn’t judge whether weight loss before adulthood could help to reduce the risk of developing diabetes later in life.

Other studies were too small to shed any light on the matter. So, together with Associate Professor Jennifer L. Baker among other colleagues, I revisited the issue in a new study.

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Largest study of its kind

We analysed data from 62,565 men recorded in school health records (at the age of seven and thirteen years) and conscription examination records (medical records of young Danish men called up for national service) between the ages of 17 to 26.

Men born between 1939 and 1959 were tracked via the National patient register. We identified 6,710 men (approximately 10 per cent), who went on to develop type 2 diabetes.

The study is the largest of its kind anywhere in the world and it is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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