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Research shows link between certain social factors and prediabetes in children

Social factors linked to prediabetes in kids
Social factors linked to prediabetes in kids 02:01

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — New research shows a link between certain social factors and prediabetes in children, regardless of race and ethnicity. 

The senior author of the study shared how these findings could make a difference in helping reverse prediabetes in kids and diabetes prevention.

A group of University of Pittsburgh and UPMC researchers have found that food insecurity, low household income and not having private health insurance are linked to higher risk of prediabetes in children, regardless of race and ethnicity.

"All were about 4 to 6 percent more likely to have prediabetes if they had these social risk factors," said Dr. Mary Ellen Vajravelu, assistant professor of pediatrics at Pitt and pediatric endocrinologist at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Vajravelu and her research team believe the findings, published in JAMA Network Open, are hopeful as Type 2 diabetes is rising significantly in children.

She said current guidelines for identifying someone at risk include family history, race and ethnicity, which can't be intervened on. However, the current guidelines don't include social determinants of health, which are non-medical factors that influence a person's health.

"What we found was that they were, in fact, related even after accounting for differences in race and ethnicity. And I think this raises the alarm and the call to address these social needs in the children that we see and if we want to limit the progression to Type 2 diabetes," Vajravelu said.

She said the findings show a child doesn't have to have a traditional risk factor, and what's promising is social factors can be changed.

"We need to think outside of the box a little bit in terms of who is actually at risk and it's not completely racially driven," Vajravelu said.

She isn't done with her research yet. She wants to study other social factors that put kids at risk of diabetes. She also wants to investigate addressing them with community organizations.

"What we need to do is figure out how we can use these in screening guidelines to inform clinicians. Which are the most important social risk factors? Which are the most predictive of risk? And then when you intervene, does that actually reduce the risk?" said Vajravelu.

"I think the big takeaway is that children are at increasing risk for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. But if we understand why and how to reduce that risk through addressing some of the social risk factors, this would probably be our next step, to design interventions to prevent diabetes," she added.

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