Understanding the Eating Behaviors of Youth at Risk for Diabetes

A father and daughter are eating a meal inside their home.

Children of parents with type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of developing the disease compared to those with parents who do not have diabetes. Having type 2 diabetes places youth at high risk for multiple disorders, including cardiovascular and kidney disease. A better understanding of the early risk factors that influence development of type 2 diabetes among youth would inform prevention efforts.

Researchers in the Yanovski Lab and colleagues compared the eating behaviors of youth who have at least one parent with type 2 diabetes and youth with parents who do not have the disease. They analyzed data from 932 people aged 8 to 18 years who were enrolled in NICHD intramural research program clinical studies at the NIH Clinical Center between 1996 and 2020.

Compared to their peers with parents without diabetes, youth with a parent with type 2 diabetes were heavier and had greater fat mass. But even accounting for their body size, youth of parents with type 2 diabetes reported experiencing more eating in the absence of hunger, emotional eating, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. There was no difference between the two groups in loss-of-control eating—the experience of being unable to control what or how much one eats.

The researchers note that additional studies of children with a parent with type 2 diabetes are needed to examine what role such eating behaviors and symptoms may play in their subsequent risk for developing the disease. If further research supports the study findings, healthcare providers who work with youth genetically predisposed to type 2 diabetes may consider recommending strategies to address certain eating behaviors.

Learn more about the Developmental Endocrinology, Metabolism, Genetics, and Endocrine Oncology Group: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/dir/affinity-groups/DEMG-EO

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