Aims and methods: It has recently been hypothesized that weight gain in childhood accelerates the onset of Type 1 diabetes, as well as increasing its risk, and that Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes may be one and the same disorder of insulin resistance. An explanation is needed for the rising incidence of childhood diabetes and, to test the Accelerator Hypothesis, we examined the anthropometric measurements recorded from birth in 168 young people presenting with Type 1 diabetes between 1980 and 2002. Pre-onset as well as peri- and post-onset measurements of height and weight were available, and waist circumference was recorded at various intervals after onset.
Results: The mean birth weight of the children and their height, weight and body mass index (BMI) at diagnosis lay close to the population mean. However, pre-onset and post-onset BMI were both well above the population mean, were closely correlated with each other (r = 0.79, P < 0.001) and (inversely) with age at onset (r = -0.30, P < 0.001). A significant correlation was also found between BMI standard deviation scores (sds) and year of diagnosis (r = 0.27, P < 0.001) and, importantly, waist circumference sds in the children with Type 1 diabetes was found to be substantially greater than average for the population [boys: +0.96 (sd 1.04), girls: +1.30 (sd 0.89)].
Conclusions: The data suggest that children with Type 1 diabetes have become progressively heavier at diagnosis over the past 20 years, and that the heavier child develops it earlier. Waist circumference, a proxy for visceral fat mass and insulin resistance, is substantially greater in children with Type 1 diabetes. Weight centile crossing appears to be an important environmental accelerator which may contribute to or account for the striking increase in both Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes in childhood. A reduction of body weight and improved lifestyle might reverse this trend in both types of diabetes.