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How The Health Habits Of Your Parents (Or In-Laws) Can Affect Your Diabetes Risk

Father and Son Talking on the Beach
Image by Rob And Julia Campbell / Stocksy
April 26, 2022

We know that genetics plays a major role in our health throughout our lives, but the well-being of your parents may be inextricably tied to your risk of developing diabetes in particular. A study published by Frontiers in Clinical Diabetes and Healthcare1 found that in a review of 500-plus families in the United States and abroad, children of individuals with "exceptional" longevity and their spouses are less likely to develop diabetes and, in fact, have a more impressive metabolic profile overall.

The study confirmed, "We found that both offspring and their spouses, especially middle-aged, may share a similar, low rate of type II diabetes, which is lower than the rates observed in the general adult population from the most recent National Health Interview Survey." Here's what that means.

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What causes type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your pancreas is not making enough insulin, resulting in high blood sugar. While type 1 diabetes is caused by your pancreas not making any insulin at all, the second variation can sometimes develop due to lifestyle habits, and may be more common in those who exercise less frequently or follow a less balanced diet. However, it's important to note that a number of factors may be the root cause for this diagnosis.

What does the study tell us? 

According to the study findings, when parents followed healthy habits and were classified with "exceptional longevity," those individuals' offspring (along with their partners) were likely to develop type 2 diabetes. "While hereditary influences, such as genetic and/or epigenetic mechanisms, are likely to play a significant role in type 2 diabetes risk, shared environmental factors are also likely to contribute to our findings."

It seems that people who were raised by parents with impressive longevity were more likely to choose healthy partners, thereby reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to their positive habits. "Spouses were actually more likely to be physically active and to report moderate alcohol consumption when compared with the offspring, and both of these lifestyle factors may reduce type 2 diabetes risk," the study notes. So much for opposites attract! 

However, this one study doesn't provide all the necessary information on the tie between a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and marrying into a healthy family. Further research may be useful in understanding the connection and health benefits. (Bonus perks if you get along with your in-laws, perhaps?)

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The takeaway.

Although there's not much you can do about your parents' lifestyles and how you were raised (much less the habits of your in-laws), this recent study presents a fascinating perspective on generational health.

We're not saying you're doomed to develop diabetes down the line if your parents aren't as healthy as they could be, and more research is necessary to understand this interesting connection. However, you can certainly thank mom and dad if they're upholding positive habits as they transition into older age.

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Merrell Readman
Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor

Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.