Study reveals that social relationships can determine type 2 diabetes risk

by Barbara Hewitt on December 20, 2017

We all know that friends and family are important but now new research suggests they have a role to play in reducing type 2 diabetes as people who are socially isolated are more at risk of the condition.

The study from Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands has found that being socially active correlates with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, suggesting that relationships can influence how the body works.

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(By triocean/Shutterstock.com)

‘High risk groups for type 2 diabetes should broaden their network and should be encouraged to make new friends, as well as become members of a club, such as a volunteer organization, sports club, or discussion group,’ said study co-author Dr. Miranda Schram.

‘Men living alone seem to be at a higher risk for the development of type 2 diabetes, so they should become recognized as a high risk group in healthcare. In addition, social network size and participation in social activities may eventually be used as indicators of diabetes risk,’ she added.

For the study the researchers analysed the medical data of 2,861 adults aged between 40 and 75 years, all of whom were participants in a large observational cohort study looking at the genetic and environmental risk factors involved in the development of type 2 diabetes.

Of these some 1,623 did not have diabetes, 430 had prediabetes, meaning that their blood sugar levels were abnormal but not yet high enough to be classed as diabetes, 111 had very been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and 697 had a pre-existing diabetes diagnosis.

Participants who did not join in with club activities or associate with any social groups were 60% more likely to have prediabetes. Women who did not participate in social activities were 112% more likely to have type 2 diabetes, while socially isolated men had a 42% higher chance of having the disease.

The researchers also found significant links between the loss of friends and social acquaintances and the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. More specifically, the loss of each social contact was associated with 12% higher odds of newly diagnosed diabetes.

The study also found that taking an average network size of 10 people, each 10% drop in network members living within walking distance of each other was linked to a 21% higher risk of newly diagnosed diabetes and a 9% higher chance of previously diagnosed diabetes in women.

Men who lived alone had a 59% higher chance of prediabetes, an 84% higher chance of newly diagnosed diabetes and a 94% higher chance of an existing diagnosis of the condition. No such association was noted in the case of women who lived alone.

‘We are the first to determine the association of a broad range of social network characteristics such as social support, network size, or type of relationships with different stages of type 2 diabetes. Our findings support the idea that resolving social isolation may help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes,’ said lead study author Stephanie Brinkhues.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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