Parenthood might have surprisingly beneficial effects for people with type 1 diabetes, according to a new Finnish study. Its analysis of data over four decades shows that people both with and without diabetes who had children died at half the rate of those who didn’t have kids over that span of time.
The study itself had some sobering overall findings. Out of an initial group of some 5,200 people with diabetes, 1,025 had died by the end of 2010.
This study group was made up of 5,200 people who had been diagnosed with the disease from 1965 to 1979, and were under the age of 18 at the time. The year 2010 was chosen as the endpoint to the study.
Out of the control group used, which included twice as many people over the same time period, only 500 had died by that date. (It’s important to note that those rates include deaths from all causes, so they don’t necessarily only reflect complications or problems with diabetes itself.) Of people with diabetes overall, women had a fivefold greater chance of dying and men had a threefold greater chance.
Given this information, the changes that parenthood made are all the more striking. For women, in particular, children were associated with a lower risk of death in both diabetics and non-diabetics. The risk was lower the more children a person had, too.
For men, there was a divergence in the findings. Non-diabetic men had a lower chance of death with kids, but the difference for them was far less pronounced than with women.
Dr. Lena Sjoberg, of the University of Helsinki and National Institute for Health and Welfare, in Finland, was behind the study. She said the difference in sexes may be attributable to the fact that diabetic women who choose to have children generally undergo rigorous counseling and education to keep their blood glucose levels in check.
There may be a self-selection effect at work too, given that the study only looked at an association between these factors, not necessarily direct causes.
Said Sjoberg in a news release about the work: “”One of the limitations of a register study is that you don’t know who has chosen to remain childless or to have fewer children than desired, and whether those with diabetes have done so specifically because of their disease. Partly, the differences in mortality between childless persons and persons with children are probably due to the fact that those with serious health problems choose not to have children.”
The study was presented at the recent annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Barcelona, Spain.
And for those unsettled by the death rates cited above, it’s important to note that tight glucose control, which has reduced complications and overall increased the health of type 1s, was not commonly used until years after the diagnosis of the patients included in this study.