New European research has found that an individual’s BMI could affect a partner’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Carried out by Danish researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University, the study looked at data from 3 649 men and 3 478 women taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing in the UK.
The researchers already knew from previous studies that married couples are often similar in terms of body weight, as people often marry someone similar to themselves and share dietary and exercise habits once living together, but wanted to investigate further whether this could also affect the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
They found that regardless of a man’s own BMI, if his wife had a BMI of 30 — which is considered obese — then he had a 21% higher risk of developing diabetes than men whose wives had a BMI of 25.
However, women did not have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes as a result of their husband’s BMI.
Although the team didn’t investigate why a partner’s BMI only appeared to affect men, they did propose a theory.
“We believe it is because women generally decide what we eat at home. That is, women have greater influence on their spouse’s dietary habits than men do,” explained Nielsen who also referred to, among other things, a US study which showed that women are more likely to be responsible for doing the household’s cooking and shopping than men are.
Diabetes can cause serious complications, and according to the Danish Diabetes Association, 35% of individuals have already experienced some of these complications by the time they are diagnosed with diabetes.
“The earlier a disease is detected, the higher the potential for successful prevention and treatment. We know that type 2 diabetes can be prevented or postponed, reducing the number of years that patients have to live with the disease. Just as related complications can be postponed through early detection,” says Nielsen.
Based on the new findings, Nielsen now believes it could be possible to detect type 2 diabetes earlier.
“Our approach to type 2 diabetes should not focus on the individual, but instead on, for example, the entire household. If a woman has a heightened risk, there is a strong probability that it is shared by her husband.”
“We know that men are less inclined to go to the doctor. So if a woman comes to her GP with risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the GP should therefore perhaps ask her to bring her husband next time,” says Nielsen.