Annual health checks for children and young people with Down’s syndrome need to more closely monitor excess weight, obesity and early signs of diabetes, according to a group of researchers.
The advice comes following results from a study which found children and young adults with Down’s syndrome are four times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes compared to those without.
The largest study ever conducted in Down’s syndrome patients
The research, which was led by Queen Mary University of London and King’s College London and published in Diabetes Care, is the largest study ever conducted in Down’s syndrome patients.
Using data from the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink – one of the most populated databases – the researchers examined just under 10,000 people with Down’s syndrome and nearly 40,000 without.
It is the first time that the researchers have looked at the incidence of diabetes and obesity in people with Down’s syndrome across their life span.
Genetics and weight thought to play a role in this predisposed risk
Children aged five-14 with Down’s syndrome appear to be at particular risk of type 2 diabetes, with this group having 10 times greater risk than those without Down’s syndrome.
The study also found that people with Down’s syndrome are typically diagnosed much earlier than those without. Indeed, the average age of diagnosis for someone with Down’s syndrome was 38 years old, compared to 53 in those without.
Both genetics and weight are thought to play a role in this predisposed risk and people with Down’s syndrome were found to have a higher BMI and their weight was found to reach its peak at an earlier age.
There is also an increased risk of type 1 diabetes due to extra chromosomes and issues with the immune system in people with Down’s syndrome.
The importance of early screening for diabetes and weight issues in people with Down’s syndrome
In light of these findings, the researchers say that annual health checks for children with Down’s syndrome need to more closely monitor excess weight, obesity and early signs of diabetes to help catch diabetes as early as possible, given how susceptible this group is and the complications it can bring in later life.
Vigilant, early-stage diabetes monitoring should therefore be implemented across healthcare settings for young people with Down’s syndrome, the researchers say.
As Dr Li Chan, senior author of the study explains: “This study highlights the importance of early screening for diabetes and weight issues in people with Down’s syndrome, especially children and young adults.
“Currently there is a sizeable gap in research into the condition, which affects around 40,000 people in the UK. To help plug this gap in knowledge, we are conducting further research into how genetics affects a person with Down Syndrome’s predisposition to diabetes and obesity, and hope to shed further light on this important medical issue.”
“The results will help to inform the work of NHSE’s LeDeR programme”
Professor Andre Strydom, corresponding author of the study said that screening and early intervention (including a healthy diet and physical activity) at a younger age is now required among people with Down’s syndrome.
“The results will help to inform the work of NHSE’s LeDeR programme to reduce inequalities and premature mortality in people with Down Syndrome and learning disabilities,” he said.