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Blame Your Spouse for Type 2 Diabetes?

Blame spouse for type 2 diabetes

Husbands, wives, and partners blame each other for lots of things, but here’s one that’s new: type 2 diabetes. A new study found that if one spouse has type 2 diabetes, there’s an increased chance the partner already has the disease or will develop it.

Two thoughts came to mind when I read about this study. One, I was not surprised. After all, type 2 diabetes is largely a disease of lifestyle, and people who live together frequently share many of the same habits, including diet and exercise, which are two major cornerstones of the disease.

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Before I introduce the second thought, let’s look at what the experts have to say about their findings.

Type 2 diabetes and spouse study
The study, which was conducted by a team at McGill University Health Centre in Canada, involved an analysis of six studies that included 75,498 couples. Data included age, how individuals were diagnosed, socioeconomic status, and when available, results of blood tests.

The findings are as follows:

  • When one individual had a history of type 2 diabetes, the partner had a 26 percent increased risk of developing the disease
  • When the reviewers were able to evaluate individuals who had had blood tests conducted to identify undiagnosed diabetes, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes doubled for those whose partner had the disease

While I had guessed correctly about why the investigators arrived at their findings—that is, spouses tend to share similar dietary, activity, and social habits that are associated with development of type 2 diabetes—one other related factor is important as well.

They noted that people are apt to seek out partners who have similar traits. Therefore, if you are single and looking for a partner, you may want to think about whether your habits and those of a prospective partner are on a healthy path.

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Second thought about the study
The other thought I had about the study was that if married and partnered people share bad habits, there’s a chance they could learn (together) to share good habits and fight type 2 diabetes. Since change can be difficult and it’s usually easier to take on challenges with a buddy, why not your spouse?

In fact, the study’s authors noted that couples could reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes if they both worked on adopting healthier habits. So if you or your partner have type 2 diabetes (or prediabetes), it’s time to make some changes in your lifestyle that can benefit both of you.

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Here are a few suggestions for couples who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes:

  • Get your blood glucose levels checked
  • Know the lifestyle risk factors for type 2 diabetes and take steps to prevent, reduce, or effectively correct those that apply to you and your partner
  • Make a pact to work on your type 2 diabetes plan together and write down your steps and goals
  • Consult with a healthcare professional--that is, a diabetes educator, physician, nurse—to get help developing a nutritious eating plan and exercise routine and if you need help working on any diabetes risk factors (e.g., high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity)
  • Explore non-drug approaches to managing type 2 diabetes and its risk factors. Choose drugs only when necessary. In fact, judicious dietary modifications can help take care of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and insulin resistance, and thus type 2 diabetes as a whole. Natural supplements and herbal remedies also can be safe options
  • Consider joining a support group either in person or online. You can get and share useful tips and information

Couples can work together to beat the odds. You don’t need to blame your spouse for type 2 diabetes!

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Leong A et al. Spousal diabetes as a diabetes risk factor: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Medicine 2014 Jan 24

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