Honey, You’re Raising My Risk for Diabetes

Spousal diabetes as a diabetes risk factor: A systematic review and meta-analysis. By Leong and colleagues. BMC Medicine 2014;12:12

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

Diabetes tends to run in families, which is partially due to inherited genes that raise the risk for developing the disease. Family environment also plays a role in determining a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Why did the researchers do this particular study?

Spouses are unrelated family members, offering an opportunity to study the effects of family environment independent of genetics. The researchers wanted to figure out the influence of family environment on diabetes risk by studying the effect of one spouse having diabetes on the other spouse.

Who was studied?

The study included data from 75,498 couples with average ages between 52 and 74 years.

How was the study done?

Researchers counted up how many couples included two people with diabetes, a single spouse with diabetes, and two people without diabetes. Then they compared the numbers to determine the impact of spousal diabetes.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that if one spouse has diabetes, the other has a 26 percent greater risk of having the disease as well.

What were the limitations of the study?

The researchers did not differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but assumed that most participants with diabetes had type 2. Also, this type of study cannot prove that having a spouse with diabetes caused the other to get diabetes.

What are the implications of the study?

Family environment may play a significant role in the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The findings suggest that poor health behaviors by one spouse, such as watching too much television or eating junk food, may lead the other spouse to engage in similar behaviors and increase that spouse's risk for diabetes. The researchers said that recognizing the shared-couple risk could encourage couples to work together to stay healthy.

  • Last Reviewed: April 1, 2014
  • Last Edited: April 1, 2014

Articles from Diabetes Forecast® magazine:

Diabetes Forecast