Preventing type 2 diabetes in young people is possible without medication

Credit: Getty

In 5 seconds

All it takes is some physical activity every day and less time spent in front of a screen, Canadian researchers find.

Soren Harnois-Leblanc et Mélanie Henderson

Soren Harnois-Leblanc, first author of the study and Mélanie Henderson, pediatrician, endocrinologist, epidemiologist at CHU Sainte-Justine and clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Université de Montréal

Credit: Charline Provost

Ten minutes of physical activity a day or less screen time is all it takes to delay the onset of type 2 diabetes and slow its development in youth, according to a study led by Université de Montréal clinical associate professor Dr Mélanie Henderson, a pediatrician, endocrinologist and epidemiologist at UdeM's affiliated children's hospital, CHU Sainte-Justine.

Obesity rates are on the rise among Canadians under the age of 19 and are reaching alarming levels. With the number of children with type 2 diabetes expected to quadruple in Canada over the next few decades, Dr. Henderson’s research offers a glimmer of hope by quantifying how physical activity and sedentary behaviours affect key diabetes indicators.

“With just 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, we see a decrease in the risks associated with the development of type 2 diabetes in at-risk children,” said Soren Harnois-Leblanc, an UdeM PhD in epidemiology and first author of the study, which was published in November in Lancet Child Adolescent Health.

“Reducing sedentary time by an hour a day offers similar benefits,” said Dr Henderson. “Screen time, whether it’s television, video games or social media, is particularly harmful, but it’s also easier to avoid than transportation-related sedentary time, for example. Not all sedentary habits have the same impact on cardiometabolic health.”

Changing one's lifestyle habits can be tricky, however. The body has built-in mechanisms to maintain its highest weight, making it very difficult to lose weight. That’s why it’s so important to act early with children and adolescents having a family history of obesity, the researchers say.

“There’s an urgent need to develop and implement obesity prevention policies that are aimed at promoting physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviours to prevent diabetes in vulnerable populations,” Dr. Henderson said. “We need to target health across the board,” added Harnois-Leblanc.

A total of 630 Quebec children with a family history of obesity were monitored over a seven-year period in three cycles: ages 8–10, 10–12 and 15–17. Several tests were used to measure key diabetes indicators including insulin sensitivity, insulin secretion and blood glucose levels. Physical activity and total sedentary time were measured by accelerometry, and leisure screen time was assessed using a self-reported questionnaire.

About this study

“Estimating causal effects of physical activity and sedentary behaviours on the development of type 2 diabetes in at-risk children from childhood to late adolescence: an analysis of the QUALITY cohort,” by Mélanie Henderson et al, was published Nov. 7, 2022, in Lancet Child Adolescent Health. The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS).

About the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre

CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre is a leading mother-child research institution affiliated with Université de Montréal. It brings together more than 200 research investigators, including over 90 clinicians, as well as 350 graduate and post-graduate students focused on finding innovative means of prevention, faster and less invasive treatments, and personalized approaches to medicine. The Centre is part of CHU Sainte-Justine, which is the largest mother-child hospital in Canada and second most important pediatric hospital in North America.

Media contact

On the same subject

diabetes childhood research