Background: Socio-economic position (SEP) and ethnicity influence type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) risk in adults. However, the influence of SEP on emerging T2DM risks in different ethnic groups and the contribution of SEP to ethnic differences in T2DM risk in young people have been little studied. We examined the relationships between SEP and T2DM risk factors in UK children of South Asian, black African-Caribbean and white European origin, using the official UK National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC) and assessed the extent to which NS-SEC explained ethnic differences in T2DM risk factors.
Methods and findings: Cross-sectional school-based study of 4,804 UK children aged 9-10 years, including anthropometry and fasting blood analytes (response rates 70%, 68% and 58% for schools, individuals and blood measurements). Assessment of SEP was based on parental occupation defined using NS-SEC and ethnicity on parental self-report. Associations between NS-SEC and adiposity, insulin resistance (IR) and triglyceride differed between ethnic groups. In white Europeans, lower NS-SEC status was related to higher ponderal index (PI), fat mass index, IR and triglyceride (increases per NS-SEC decrement [95%CI] were 1.71% [0.75, 2.68], 4.32% [1.24, 7.48], 5.69% [2.01, 9.51] and 3.17% [0.96, 5.42], respectively). In black African-Caribbeans, lower NS-SEC was associated with lower PI (-1.12%; [-2.01, -0.21]), IR and triglyceride, while in South Asians there were no consistent associations between NS-SEC and T2DM risk factors. Adjustment for NS-SEC did not appear to explain ethnic differences in T2DM risk factors, which were particularly marked in high NS-SEC groups.
Conclusions: SEP is associated with T2DM risk factors in children but patterns of association differ by ethnic groups. Consequently, ethnic differences (which tend to be largest in affluent socio-economic groups) are not explained by NS-SEC. This suggests that strategies aimed at reducing social inequalities in T2DM risk are unlikely to reduce emerging ethnic differences in T2DM risk.