Research sheds new light on children’s metabolic health

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Nestlé Research and the University of Plymouth have revealed new insights into the factors that predispose children to developing type 2 diabetes in adult life. This was part of a first-of-its-kind study called EarlyBird that followed 300 healthy children in Plymouth, UK, for 15 years to determine who would become at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and why.

The EarlyBird researchers monitored the children from five years of age to early adulthood to explore how the metabolism changes during growth. The findings, published in a series of peer-reviewed scientific publications, shed new light on the biological and physiological factors that are relevant for metabolic health in childhood.

The latest results published in Diabetes Care show that the earliest event leading to prediabetes (the initial asymptomatic condition where the first signs of diabetes are already present), is an early dysfunction of the beta-cell, independent of body weight. Beta-cells in the pancreas produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. They further showed that this beta-cell dysfunction was associated with the presence of genetic factors previously associated with type 2 diabetes in adults. This discovery could lead to the early identification of children that are at risk of future type 2 diabetes.

Professor Jon Pinkney from the University of Plymouth stated, “The rapidly rising prevalence of type 2 diabetes is one of the biggest global health challenges, and there is an urgent need to develop effective strategies for early intervention and prevention. The research partnership between University of Plymouth and Nestlé has shown how the risks of future type 2 diabetes can be predicted in childhood. This opens up the possibility of individualized advice and early intervention to reduce the risks of future type 2 diabetes.”

“In this study we show that beta-cell dysfunction is an early event in the onset of pre-diabetes in children and that this effect is body weight independent”, said François-Pierre Martin, an expert in metabolism who led the collaboration at Nestlé Research. “However, we also report in this study that subsequent weight gain during puberty aggravates the progression from prediabetes to diabetes. This stresses the importance of lifestyle and nutritional interventions in childhood to reduce the risks to develop diabetes.”

In 2018, Nestlé launched its global initiative Nestlé for Healthier Kids, with the ambition to help 50 million children lead healthier lives. This knowledge supports this ambition by enabling the understanding of what is crucial for a child healthy growth and development.