NEWS

If You’re From a Long-Living Family, You Might Have a Lower Risk of Diabetes

An older adult white woman with glasses being hugged by a little blonde child.

Ekaterina Shakharova / Unsplash

Key Takeaways

  • Both genetic and lifestyle factors play a role when it comes to developing type 2 diabetes.
  • New research suggests that people born into families with longevity are less likely to develop the disease than the general public.
  • Spouses of people born into long-living families also have a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, likely because of shared environmental and lifestyle factors.


According to new research, children from families with a history of long lifespans have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The study, which was published in the medical journal Frontiers in Clinical Diabetes and Healthcare, found that the offspring of long-lived parents were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to the general population.

Interestingly, the study also found that the spouses of people from long-lived families also had a reduced type 2 diabetes risk.

The Study

The researchers analyzed data from 4,559 long-living people in the United States and Denmark. The people are part of the Long Life Family Study, a cohort of 583 two-generation families with healthy aging and exceptional longevity.

Using blood samples, the researchers discovered that children born into long-living families have hereditary biomarkers that tend to reduce the likelihood of them developing type 2 diabetes. In other words, genetic factors related to longevity are at play in the condition.

Specifically, the researchers found that over the course of the study:

  • 3.7% of the children born into families with a history of longevity and 3.8% of their spouses developed type 2 diabetes
  • Among study participants 45–64 years old, the rates were 3.6 (offspring) and 3.0 (spouses) per 1,000 person-years, compared to 9.9 per 1,000 person-years in the general population
  • Among study participants 65 years or older, the rates were 7.2 and 7.4 per 1,000 person-years, respectively, compared to 8.8 per 1,000 person-years in the general population

Why Are Spouses Also at Lower Risk?

In the case of the offspring’s spouses—who may not have the same genetic predispositions— the researchers think shared environmental factors might be contributing to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Iva Miljkovic, MD

One hypothesis that can explain why the spouses are also healthy is that they share the same environment as the members from long-lived families.

— Iva Miljkovic, MD

Iva Miljkovic, MD, PhDD, lead author of the study and an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, tells Verywell that “one hypothesis that can explain why the spouses are also healthy is that they share the same environment as the members from long-lived families.”

In the study, Miljkovic said that the spouses of children born into long-living families tended to drink less alcohol and were physically active. Both of these lifestyle factors can help reduce type 2 diabetes risk.

“This is why we hypothesized that the protective familial genetic, biological, and possibly epigenetic factors impact glucose homeostasis among the offspring,” said Miljkovic. “Whereas, in their spouses, healthier lifestyles may, in fact, contribute to lower type 2 diabetes risk.”

According to Miljkovic, another factor that might contribute is that spouses in long-living families might adopt “very healthy behavior in their effort to compensate for their ‘lack of longevity genes’” as well as try to “keep up a long and healthy life as they predict their spouses will have.”

Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors

The new study adds to the body of research that shows type 2 diabetes is related to genetics and lifestyle factors. Just as certain biomarkers may help prevent you from developing type 2 diabetes, certain genes can increase your risk of it, too.

Kathleen Alanna Page, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and director of the university’s Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute, tells Verywell that if a family member has the disease, the chances of their children having it are also higher.

“There is a high genetic component—it’s not caused by one single gene as multiple genes are involved,” said Page.

Page noted that certain ethnic and racial groups, like Black and Hispanic people, have higher rates of type 2 diabetes in part because of their genotypes.

More Than Your Genes

That said, just because someone has a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes doesn’t mean they will necessarily develop it. Page said that’s where lifestyle comes in.

Kathleen Alanna Page, MD

If patients who have a ‘heavy load’ of genes that make them susceptible to develop type 2 diabetes have a proper lifestyle, they may not ever get the disease.

— Kathleen Alanna Page, MD

Lifestyle factors like poor diet, a lack of exercise, obesity, and smoking are all known to contribute to the risk of type 2 diabetes.

According to Page, people tend to have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes as they age, since they often have increased body fat and loss of muscle mass later in life—both of which are risk factors

“If patients who have a ‘heavy load’ of genes that make them susceptible to develop type 2 diabetes have a proper lifestyle, they may not ever get the disease,” said Page. “It’s kind of like you’re loaded with a gun, but you don’t pull the trigger if you don’t have the lifestyle that can enable type 2 diabetes to emerge.”

Additionally, Page said that if a person had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, they have an increased risk of getting diabetes within the next 10 years.

Socioeconomics

Miljkovic adds that socioeconomic factors also affect people’s health outcomes, and many of these factors are outside of their control.

For example, wealth is often tied to better health outcomes. Research has shown that people who have more money can afford the resources that protect and improve their health, like access to high-quality health care and fitness programs.

By contrast, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are shown to live shorter lives.

“If wealth is tied to lifespan, and wealthy people tend to marry other wealthy people, this could also mean that both offspring and their spouses would have greater socioeconomic status and education,” said Miljkovic. Those factors, in turn, mean they “could be more aware of the beneficial lifestyle choices and be able to afford healthier food,” which would help lower their risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

How to Lower Your Risk

Lifestyle factors like a healthy diet and regular exercise can help reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. Not smoking or quitting if you do helps, too.

For pregnant people, reducing the risk of developing gestational diabetes can be managed through regular exercise and losing weight if you’re overweight.

Making these changes is important, as research has shown that children born to people with gestational diabetes have a higher chance of developing the disease themselves.

“The environment that you’re exposed to as a developing fetus is even setting the stage for risk for disease,” said Page.

Preventing children from developing diabetes is key. According to Page, there’s been a high increase in children and adolescents with the disease in recent years.

“There’s a lot of [factors] that go back even before birth, which is an emerging field [of research] that’s really changing the way we think about risk for disease,” said Page.

What This Means For You

People born into long-living families may have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes—and even their spouses may get the benefit. While genetics play a role, lifestyle factors like diet and exercise are preventive measures that can help people lower their risk of type 2 diabetes.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Miljkovic I, Cvejkus R, An P, et al. Low risk for developing diabetes among the offspring of individuals with exceptional longevity and their spouses. Front Clin Diabetes Healthc. 2022;3:753986. doi:10.3389/fcdhc.2022.753986

  2. Urban Institute. How are income and wealth linked to health and longevity?

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gestational diabetes.

  4. Lawrence JM, Divers J, Isom S, et al. Trends in prevalence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents in the US, 2001-2017JAMA. 2021;326(8):717–727. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.11165