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February 7, 2003

Genetics and Heredity

Question from California, USA:

Are there any particular groups that are more likely to have diabetes than any others?


The answer to this question depends somewhat on what kind of diabetes you are talking about. type 2 diabetes in both children and adults is to a large extent related to diet and exercise; but even so certain groups such as the Pima Indians and circumpolar populations seem especially at risk. In the case of rarer forms of diabetes such as the mitochondrial ones and the many forms of Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young, any differences are related to the distribution of the abnormal gene.

In the case of your friend, who I imagine has type 1A (autoimmune) diabetes, the population incidence is related in part to genetic differences in HLA type and several other genes but also to differences in the unknown environmental factors that trigger the disorder in the susceptible. Thus people in Finland, in Scotland and Sardinia are much more likely to develop diabetes than Caucasians in North America and very much more likely than in a Chinese population. Similarly people with the HLA pattern DR3/DR4 are significantly more vulnerable than other types, some of which may even be protective..