Change in Body Size from Childhood to Adulthood Impacts Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Posted on 22.02.2024

A recent study sheds light on how shifts in body size from childhood to adulthood can influence the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In contrast to the risk of type 2 diabetes, the study found that cardiovascular risk was determined mainly by adult body size, regardless of childhood body size.

Individuals with low body size in childhood and high body size in adulthood have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

This is one of the key findings presented in the article Child-to-adult body size change and risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, published in Diabetologia in December 2023.

Germán D. Carrasquilla, former Danish Diabetes Academy (DDA) grant recipient, is the first author of the publication.

“The study was inspired by the need to explore a less-discussed aspect of obesity: how being lean in childhood might connect to becoming obese in adulthood and the cardiometabolic health risks associated with this transition,” says Germán D. Carrasquilla.

Understanding Hidden Health Risks

While childhood obesity is a well-documented health risk, Germán D. Carrasquilla and his co-writer’s study reveals that lean children can also be vulnerable under certain circumstances.

“Much attention is given to childhood obesity, for understandable reasons, yet it is intriguing to note that many adults who are obese were not necessarily obese as children. Many obese adults were of average weight during their childhood years,” says Germán D. Carrasquilla.

“Our study aimed to understand the potential health consequences for those who transition from being lean in childhood to being overweight or obese in adulthood. This research examines how this change might affect the risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart-related problems.”

Methods and Impact

Gérman D. Carrasquilla and his co-writers used data from the UK Biobank in 364,695 individuals of European Ancestry free of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The data was divided into different categories based on the individual’s self-reported body size at age 10 and measured BMI in adulthood. After a median follow-up of almost 13 years, 33,460 individuals had developed type 2 diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease.

 “The insights gained about the transition from childhood leanness to adult obesity and increased type 2 diabetes risk provide a starting point for additional research,” says Gérman D. Carrasquilla.

“Replicating these findings in different populations and settings will be crucial for validating and expanding our understanding of this phenomenon. Future studies could delve deeper into the underlying biological mechanisms and explore more specific interventions or preventive strategies. Understanding the biological aspects is crucial, especially since we see this phenomenon for type 2 diabetes risk but not cardiovascular disease, where the main driver was adult body size.”

A Need for Broadening Preventive Measures

In the article’s conclusion, Germán D. Carrasquilla and his co-writers establish how their findings highlight the need to promote healthy weight management from childhood to adulthood.

“This study reinforces the importance of maintaining a healthy weight throughout life, including in those who are not obese during childhood. The findings may suggest that future studies could encompass not only children living with obesity but also those lean children who are at risk of becoming obese in adulthood, thereby broadening the scope of preventive health measures,” explains Germán D. Carrasquilla.

Graphical abstract

From Child-to-adult body size change and risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease


Child-to-adult body size change and risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease

Germán D. Carrasquilla, Lars Ängquist, Thorkild A. Sørensen, Tuomas O. Kilpeläinen & Ruth J.F. Loos
Diabetologia (2023)


Germán D. Carrasquilla
Assistant Professor, Kilpeläinen-Loos Group, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen
+45 35 33 45 95

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