Women who delay starting their families are more likely to have children who develop diabetes, and the trend to older motherhood may explain the rise in diabetes across the developed world, researchers say.

Women who delay starting their families are more likely to have children who develop diabetes, and the trend to older motherhood may explain the rise in diabetes across the developed world, researchers say.

Doctors have been puzzled by the rapid rise in childhood diabetes, which affects about 38,000 children under 15 in England. The number of children affected, who require daily insulin injections throughout life, has risen by half in a decade.

Researchers from Bristol who studied 1,375 families with at least one diabetic child in the Oxford area found a strong link between the mother's age at birth and the risk of diabetes in their offspring.

From the age of 20 the risk of having a diabetic child increased by 25 per cent every five years. A 45-year-old mother was three times more likely to have a child who developed diabetes than a 20-year-old mother.

First-born children of older mothers were at greatest risk. The risk was also increased if the child had an older father, though to a lesser extent.

In the 11 years from 1985 to 1995, the incidence of childhood diabetes in the Oxford area rose from 2.5 per 1,000 to 3.8 per 1,000, an overall rise of 52 per cent.

The researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal, cite figures showing more women are postponing motherhood from their twenties to their thirties or forties.

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