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Hereditary heart and diabetes problems raise risk for children

Third of children have inherited higher levels of cardiometabolic risk

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Children with a strong family history of heart disease and/or type 2 diabetes appear to have a higher risk of having diabetes, heart disease or stroke themselves, according to a new study* published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.

Dutch researchers found that children with a strong family history of heart disease and/or type 2 diabetes had cholesterol levels significantly higher than children with no family history of those conditions.

The research was conducted by Dr Nina Berentzen, Dr Alet Wijga and Dr Annemieke Spijkerman (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven, the Netherlands) and colleagues.

There is a well-established overlap in occurrence of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and their risk factors, but despite this, family history of these diseases has not yet been investigated simultaneously in relation to cardiometabolic markers in offspring.

Therefore, the researchers set out to investigate the occurrence of both diseases across two generations of parents and grandparents, and relate it to measurable risk factors in children.

A broad sample of children and their families involved in an ongoing Dutch population-based birth cohort study were invited to take part in the new study, which had a population of 1,374 children who had both a clinical assessment at age 12 and parental reports on their family history of disease.

Parents were asked to report any history of myocardial infarction, stroke and diabetes for both the biological parents and grandparents of the child, as well as the age at onset of those conditions.

Children had a range of measurements taken at age 12, including BMI, waist circumference and cholesterol, blood pressure, and glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c), a standard method for assessing blood sugar control and diabetes status.

Other characteristics used to describe the children taking part were their sex, ethnicity, age, pubertal development, as well as the age, education level and BMI of their parents.

Results showed that overall, a third of the children in the study had a strong family history of heart disease and/or diabetes. These children had higher levels of total cholesterol and a higher ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol than children with no such family history.

Children with a moderate family history of heart disease and/or diabetes had no unfavourable cardiometabolic markers whereas children with a strong family history did, when compared to children with no such family history.

Adjusting for the BMI of the parents, and even factoring in the BMI of the child did little to change the effect estimates of the various cardiometabolic markers in those children with a strong family history of disease.

Children with elevated levels of these markers could have a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes in adulthood, said the authors.

The authors concluded: “Future studies may especially focus on lifestyle behaviours that are passed on from one generation to the next since these may account for (part of) the association of diabetes/CVD [cardiovascular disease] in multiple generations with cardiometabolic risk in the offspring.”

* Berentzen NE, et al. Family history of myocardial infarction, stroke and diabetes and cardiometabolic markers in children. Diabetologia pp 1-9. First online: 30 May 2016. doi:10.​1007/​s00125-016-3988-2

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