Autism May Increase Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder: a nationwide longitudinal study (Published online before print March 22, 2016, doi: 10.2337/dc15-1807)

What is the problem and what is known about it so far?

Autism (also known as autism spectrum disorder or ASD) is a developmental disability. Youth with ASD have social, communication, and behavior problems. Studies have shown that ASD is associated with risk factors for type 2 diabetes, mainly obesity (being overweight) and dyslipidemia (having high levels of fat in your blood). Researchers think there may be a link between ASD and developing type 2 diabetes, but this association remains unknown.

Why did the researchers do this particular study?

Researchers wanted to find out if youth with ASD are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life compared with youth without ASD.

Who was studied?

Youth aged 10-17 years and young adults aged 18–29 years were enrolled in the study and divided into two groups. The study group included 6,122 youths and young adults with ASD who did not have diabetes. The control group included 24,488 youths and young adults without ASD or diabetes.

How was the study done?

Researchers enrolled participants between 2002 and 2009. At the end of 2011, researchers looked at which participants developed type 2 diabetes to see which group was more likely to have developed the disease.

What did the researchers find?

Participants in the study group with ASD developed type 2 diabetes more often than those in the control group who did not have ASD. The research consistently indicated that ASD was associated with an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes in later life. Individuals taking psychiatric medication had an even higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

What were the limitations of the study?

The rate of type 2 diabetes may have been underestimated in this study because only patients who sought medical help were included. Also, certain information, such as personal lifestyle, BMI, blood pressure, and family history, was unavailable, so these factors could not be explored.

What are the implications of the study?

According to the findings from this study, youth and young adults with ASD have a higher chance of getting type 2 diabetes later in life than individuals without ASD. Clinicians working with patients with ASD should closely monitor body weight and lipid profiles to try to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.