Husbands in their late 50s and 60s are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if their wives were overweight or obese, but not true for wives with heavier husbands, reveals a new study based on couples. Also in a second related study, they found that these older men and women who had spouses with type 2 diabetes were more likely to be heavier than their peers whose spouses did not have diabetes, researchers reported.

“It doesn’t mean that the wife’s BMI [body mass index] is the most determinant” factor for a husband’s obesity, Dr Adam Hulman, from Aarhus University, Denmark, cautioned the press at the EASD 2017. The man’s “own BMI is still the most important factor,” he stressed.

Plus, “One explanation could be that at the end of the 1990s in the UK, women were more responsible for or the ones who determined the diet of the family or the household.” The implications for clinicians are, that to assess type 2 diabetes risk, “there is the regular question — whether your parents or a sibling have diabetes — and this study calls attention that there are [also] other connections within the family” that could play a role. Thus, “If you find that the spouse has obesity, pay attention to the other half of the couple.”

Senior author for both studies, Daniel R Witte, MD, PhD, from Aarhus University reiterated this message, “In the current very individualized way of approaching diabetes risk we sometimes forget [the patient’s social network], and I think this is a reminder that we should pay close attention to the home environment.”  There is a need to “approach the person as part of a family unit rather than as an individual.”

European Association for the Study of Diabetes 2017 Annual Meeting; September 11, 2017; Lisbon, Portugal. Abstracts 80, 308  in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA).