Do all overweight kids develop diabetes? If not, who does?

Do all fat kids become diabetics? If not, who does?

As GPs we often see little kids already carrying extra weight and we know that many of these will go on to become overweight or obese adults. Many overweight kids and overweight adults will go on to develop type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, some obese kids don’t go on to become diabetic. Which subsets of these overweight kids don’t go on to develop diabetes? What if the overweight kid skinny up when they become adults? Are they still at risk? What about normal weight kids that become overweight adolescents and young adults? Are they at risk too?

We know that high BMI at a young adult age is associated with T2D later on in life (1,2). High childhood BMI or low birth weight is also associated with increased risk of adult T2D (3-10).  The physiology during childhood and during puberty are actually very different. Is the childhood BMI the risk factor or the adult BMI the risk factor? Does the degree of weight gain matter?

In a study from four populations where BMI was measured both in childhood at 3-19 years of age and later in the same participants at 30-40 years of age, overweight adults had increased risk of adult type 2 diabetes regardless of BMI status during childhood (6). The risk in overweight children was similar to the risk in participants who were never overweight. However, the number of overweight subjects in that study was too underpowered to draw a valid conclusion (10). On the other hand, excessive BMI increase during puberty has been associated with CVD, stroke and heart failure in a number of studies (11-13).

The BMI Epidemiology Study Gothenburg (BEST Gothenburg) studied the impact of birthweight, childhood and adolescent BMI on adult diseases. 36,176 men born between 1945-1961 with information on both childhood BMI at age 8 and BMI change during puberty (BMI at age 20 – BMI at age 8) were included and followed until December 2013. There were 1,777 cases of type 2 diabetes before the end of follow-up and the median age at diagnosis was 55.7 years. When they break down those that developed diabetes, they found:

  • High adult BMI and a high childhood BMI are associated with increased risk of T2D
  • Overweight kids and a high BMI increase during puberty was associated with increased risk of adult T2D. The risk was more pronounced for early (<55.7 years) compared with late (>55.7 years) onset T2D.
  • Overweight adolescents also had a substantially increased risk of T2D compared with men who were never overweight (as kids or as young adults) irrespective of whether they were overweight as a child
  • Men who were overweight both at childhood and young adult age had a nearly four-fold increased risk of adult T2D compared with men that were never overweight
  • Most interestingly, men who were overweight as kids but skinny up (normalised) during puberty did not have an increased risk of T2D

The authors speculate that a high BMI increase during puberty might result in increased risk of type 2 diabetes via expansion of visceral fat mass, resulting in low-grade inflammation and insulin resistance.

It would appear that childhood and adult BMI are independent risk factor for the development of T2D. From this study, the BMI change during puberty is an important determinant of adult T2D risk. As these overweight kids frequent our practices during that period, we could reduce their adult T2D risk.

Access the abstract here.


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