Age Before Stage: Insulin Resistance Rises Before the Onset of Puberty

A 9-year longitudinal study (EarlyBird 26)

  1. Terence J. Wilkin, MD
  1. University Medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Plymouth, U.K.
  1. Corresponding author: Alison N. Jeffery, alison.jeffery{at}


OBJECTIVE Insulin resistance (IR) is associated with diabetes. IR is higher during puberty in both sexes, with some studies showing the increase to be independent of changes in adiposity. Few longitudinal studies have reported on children, and it remains unclear when the rise in IR that is often attributed to puberty really begins. We sought to establish from longitudinal data its relationship to pubertal onset, and interactions with age, sex, adiposity, and IGF-1.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS The EarlyBird Diabetes study is a longitudinal prospective cohort study of healthy children aged 5–14 years. Homeostasis model assessment (HOMA-IR), skinfolds (SSF), adiposity (percent fat, measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry), serum leptin, and IGF-1 were measured annually in 235 children (134 boys). Pubertal onset was adduced from Tanner stage (TS) and from the age at which luteinizing hormone (LH) first became serially detectable (≥0.2 international units/L).

RESULTS IR rose progressively from age 7 years, 3–4 years before TS2 was reached or LH became detectable. Rising adiposity and IGF-1 together explained 34% of the variance in IR in boys and 35% in girls (both P < 0.001) over the 3 years preceding pubertal onset. The contribution of IGF-1 to IR was greater in boys, despite their comparatively lower IGF-1 levels.

CONCLUSIONS IR starts to rise in mid-childhood, some years before puberty. Its emergence relates more to the age of the child than to pubertal onset. More than 60% of the variation in IR prior to puberty was unexplained. The demography of childhood diabetes is changing, and prepubertal IR may be important.


  • Received July 6, 2011.
  • Accepted November 21, 2011.

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  1. Diabetes Care vol. 35 no. 3 536-541
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