The early signs of type 2 diabetes are visible in children as young as eight years old, according to new research.
New findings presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) have found that the signs of adulthood type 2 diabetes may be visible in children, decades before it is likely to be diagnosed.
The researchers analysed genetic information known to increase the chances of someone developing adult type 2 diabetes. They found that a child's levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), cholesterol, amino acids and a chronic inflammatory trait measure in the blood were all affected by their susceptibility to type 2 diabetes.
Targeting these factors early in life could be key to preventing children from developing type 2 diabetes.
Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes develops later in life and is more common in people who are obese and older people, although it is becoming increasingly common in young people. It affects the body's ability to make and use insulin to control blood sugar levels.
Management of the condition usually involves changes to diet and exercise. In England, about one in 10 people aged 45-54 years have diabetes and about one in four people aged over 75 years have diabetes. Nine in 10 cases of diabetes are type 2.
The study looked at data from 4,000 participants involved in a study-at-birth cohort in the 1990s, examining their genetic risk score for adult type 2 diabetes at age 8, 16, 18 and 25. The participants were generally healthy and free of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases in order to assess their susceptibility to the condition in adulthood.
From the age of eight, levels of HDL ('good') cholesterol were found to be reduced and levels of LDL ('bad') cholesterol were raised in those more likely to go on to develop type 2 diabetes. By 16 and 18 years old, inflammatory glycoprotein acetyls and amino acids were elevated.
The authors of the research highlight that these factors are only an indicator of risk for type 2 diabetes and do not mean that all of the young people involved in the study will go on to develop the condition. However, the results of the study do indicate measurable factors which can be monitored and targeted to prevent the development of diabetes in adulthood.
"This is about liability to disease and how genetics can tell us something about how the disease develops," said Dr Joshua Bell, co-leader of the research from the University of Bristol. "It's remarkable that we can see signs of adult diabetes in the blood from such a young age - this is about 50 years before it's commonly diagnosed.
"If we want to prevent diabetes, we need to know how it starts. Genetics can help with that, but our aim here is to learn how diabetes develops, not to predict who will and will not develop it. Other methods may help with prediction but won't necessarily tell us where to intervene," he said.
"Knowing what early features of type 2 diabetes look like could help us to intervene much earlier to halt progression to full-blown diabetes and its complications."