According to new research from Queen Mary University of London and King’s College London, young adults and children with Down’s syndrome are four times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than those without the condition.
The research team examined almost 10,000 people with Down’s syndrome and nearly 40,000 people without the condition. The data was taken from the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink, a population-based study that spanned three decades from 1990 to 2020.
The study is the first to examine the association between incidents of diabetes and obesity in young adults and children with Down’s syndrome, using one of the world’s biggest Down’s syndrome cohorts.
Regular health checks are key
The researchers found that children with Down’s syndrome aged five to 14 years were ten times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than children without Down’s syndrome. The findings suggest that annual health checks for children with Down’s syndrome need to be monitored more closely for obesity, excess weight, and early signs of diabetes. The researchers highlighted the importance of catching diabetes early in children with Down’s syndrome given how vulnerable the group is to the complications of diabetes later in life.
The study revealed that people with Down’s syndrome typically developed diabetes much earlier in life than people without the condition. The average age of diagnosis for a person with Down’s syndrome is 38 years old, compared to 53 years old in people without Down’s syndrome.
Children with Down’s syndrome are vulnerable to both types of diabetes
The primary reasons behind the increased susceptibility to diabetes in people with Down’s syndrome are thought to be genetics and excess body weight. People with Down’s syndrome were found to have a higher average body mass index and reach their peak weight at an earlier age. The researchers also identified an increased risk of type 1 diabetes in young people and children with Down’s syndrome. This is due to extra chromosomes and immune system issues.
“This study highlights the importance of early screening for diabetes and weight issues in people with Down’s syndrome, especially children and young adults,” said Dr Li Chan, senior author, Reader in Molecular Endocrinology and Metabolism and Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist at Queen Mary University of London.
“Currently there is a sizeable gap in research into the condition, which affects around 40,000 people in the UK. To help plug this gap in knowledge, we are conducting further research into how genetics affects a person with Down’s syndrome’s predisposition to diabetes and obesity and hope to shed further light on this important medical issue.
The results of the study will help to inform the work of the NHS LeDeR programme, which aims to reduce inequalities and premature mortality in people with Down’s syndrome and learning disabilities.
“This is the largest study ever conducted in Down’s syndrome patients to show that they have unique needs with regards to diabetes and obesity and that screening and intervention- including a healthy diet and physical activity – at younger ages is required compared to the general population,” said Professor Andre Strydom, corresponding author, Professor in Intellectual Disabilities at King’s College London.