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Family history raises cardiometabolic risk for children, study says

For children with strong family history of disease, the risk is significantly higher regardless of other health factors, researchers say.

By Stephen Feller
Family history raises cardiometabolic risk for children, study says
In addition to genetics affecting risk of disease, researchers in the Netherlands say a recent study of 12-year-olds suggests family history of disease also can significantly increase risk for disease regardless of other health factors. Photo by Syda Productions/Shutterstock

BILTHOVEN, Netherlands, May 31 (UPI) -- Genetics, environment and lifestyle combine to form risk for disease, however researchers found that for about one-third of children, family history -- a combination of the three -- increases risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

Researchers at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands report family history is more significant for nearly one-third of children, independent of any of their own health conditions or lifestyle habits, according to a study published in the journal Diabetologia.

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The data show family history may be more important than thought in relation to disease development, as children at normal weight and BMI did not see reduced risk for cardiometabolic conditions.

Previous studies have suggested cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, stroke and diabetes in the previous two generations of a child's family indicate a higher risk for the child, findings the new study reinforces, researchers say.

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"Our study is the first to investigate both diabetes and cardiovascular disease history in two generations," researchers write in the study. "Our findings add to the previous findings that in 12-year-old children from a contemporary cohort, history of myocardial infarction and diabetes in parents and grandparents may be a relevant and important risk factor for unfavorable waist circumference, levels of cholesterol and hemoglobin, and potentially for future cardiometabolic disease, largely independent of parental and child BMI."

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For the study, the researchers used data on 1,374 children -- 704 girls and 670 boys -- who had a clinical assessment of their health at age 12 and parental reports on their family history of disease, comparing incidence of disease between children with high family history and none.

Parents reported history of myocardial infarction, stroke and diabetes for biological parents and grandparents of children and the age of onset for any health condition. Children were considered to have strong family history if they had one affected parent, one grandparent with early onset or three to four grandparents with late onset, moderate family history with one or two grandparents with late onset disease, or no family history.

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Data was collected for each child on BMI, waist circumference, cholesterol, blood pressure and hemoglobin, which can indicate blood sugar and diabetes.

Overall, 29 percent of children had strong family history of cardiometabolic disease, with these children at much greater risk for negative health conditions, while those with moderate family history did not have unfavorable cardiometabolic biomarkers. This, researchers say, suggests children were at greater risk for disease if they have family history, than those with little or no family history.

Based on the increased risk, the researchers say future studies will consider the effects of lifestyle on cardiometabolic disease, to find how it interacts with the increased risk, or lack thereof, from family history.

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