18-year-old males who have low resistance to stress could have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in adulthood, new research suggests.

People who experience stress in adulthood have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In this new study, Stanford University researchers and colleagues in Sweden investigated if stress resilience at a younger age was linked to the subsequent development of type 2 diabetes.

The research team evaluated a cohort of 1,534,425 military conscripts in Sweden between 1969 and 1997, when national service was compulsory in Sweden. During this time, 97-98 per cent of 18-year-old males were affected each year.

Stress Assessment

Each conscript underwent standardised psychological assessment for stress resilience; no-one had type 2 diabetes at baseline. They were then followed up for type 2 diabetes – which was identified from outpatient and inpatient diagnoses – between 1987 and 2012. The maximum attained age was 62.

34,008 men were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 39 million person-years of follow-up. Low stress resilience was linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes even after adjustments for BMI, family history of diabetes and socioeconomic factors.

Those in the 20 per cent of conscripts who had the lowest stress resilience were 51 per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to the 20 per cent with the highest stress resilience.

Study Findings

According to the researchers, unhealthy lifestyle behaviours and other physiological factors could affect how stress resilience affects the development of type 2. They added that people who are more stressed are more likely to get less physical activity, eat an unhealthy diet and smoke.

“These findings suggest that psychosocial function and ability to cope with stress may play an important long-term role in aetiological pathways for type 2 diabetes,” the authors wrote.

“Additional studies will be needed to elucidate the specific underlying causal factors, which may help inform more effective preventive interventions across the lifespan.”

The researchers added that they cannot be certain whether these findings directly apply to women.


The study was published in Diabetologia.