When someone is diagnosed with diabetes, other family members seem more likely to adopt health lifestyle changes, too.
A new study found that partners of people newly diagnosed with diabetes were 50 percent more likely to attend weight management classes and 25 percent more likely to get medication to help quit smoking.
They were also slightly more likely to get their blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol checked; lose a meaningful amount of weight; and get a flu shot than people whose partners didn’t have diabetes.
“We wanted to know if a diabetes diagnosis affected other people in the household in the year following diagnosis,” said the study’s lead author, Julie Schmittdiel. She’s a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland.
“When one person in a family gets diabetes, it’s a little scary. But it’s also a real opportunity to help them reduce their risk of complications, and maybe it’s a good time to help others in the household as well,” Schmittdiel said.
“Clinicians and health systems should help family members take advantage of this opportunity to make lasting changes,” she added.
Diabetes affects 29 million people in the United States, the researchers said. Most have type 2 diabetes, a condition linked to excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle.
One of the cornerstones of type 2 diabetes management is healthy lifestyle changes, often with medication. People with type 2 diabetes are encouraged to improve their diet, increase their physical activity levels and, if they smoke, to quit, the researchers said.
Partners and children of people with type 2 diabetes may also be at increased risk of the disease due to genetics and shared lifestyle habits, the study team noted.
The study looked at nearly 181,000 couples in Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California health plan. The researchers compared couples with a new diagnosis of diabetes in one partner with couples who didn’t have diabetes.
The study didn’t delve into the reasons why a diabetes diagnosis in one partner can lead to healthy behavior changes in the other. But Schmittdiel theorized that exposure to diabetes education, lifestyle changes and weight management has a “positive effect on the partner.”
Plus, she said, “the diagnosis of diabetes can be a real wake-up call for the partner, too.”
Dr. Gerald Bernstein is program coordinator for the Diabetes Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“The data here is very important,” said Bernstein, who wasn’t involved with the study. “The differences are small, but real. These findings should be a wake-up call to incorporate family members into diabetes education and management when someone is diagnosed.”
Both experts agreed that by making healthy changes, partners without diabetes may head off their own diabetes diagnosis.
And Bernstein noted that healthy behavior changes will likely benefit the whole family. “Once you start behavior changes, you begin to potentially protect children from future diabetes,” he said.
The study was published July 9 in the Annals of Family Medicine.
Learn more about healthy lifestyle choices from the American Heart Association.
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