Chronic Diseases

Q: Are people with Spina Bifida at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

A: People with Spina Bifida who have any of the following risk factors are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes:

  • Obesity: People who are overweight, especially those whose fat settles in the abdomen rather than the legs and hips, are at high risk for insulin resistance and diabetes. At least 50% of children and adults with Spina Bifida are obese, putting them at very high risk for diabetes in their life.
  • Inactivity/immobility: Increased exercise helps to maintain a healthy weight. Furthermore, exercise burns glucose for energy, increasing the cells' ability to use the insulin. There are many options for exercise for people with Spina Bifida, both those who can walk and for those who have difficulty with walking or use a wheelchair.
  • Family history: Hispanics, American Indians, Asian Americans, and African Americans are the highest risk groups for type 2 diabetes. However, any family history of diabetes should be shared with your physician.
  • Personal history of pre-diabetes or gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy).
  • Age: Risk increases with age. People over the age of 45 are considered high risk. However, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes is increasing among children and adolescents. This increase is attributed to obesity, poor nutrition and lack of exercise. To decrease your risk, eat nutritious meals and maintain a healthy weight

For more information, review SBA’s health information sheets on obesity and diabetes.

Q: Are people with Spina Bifida at increased risk of getting osteoporosis?

A: 50% of people with Spina Bifida get osteoporosis, and research shows they get it much younger than the general population. Children and adults with repaired myelomeningocele have lower bone density in their lumbar spine and in their hips (greater trochanter) than the general population. This is true for both those who ambulate and those who use wheelchairs, but seems to be greater for those who do not ambulate. Decreased bone density may also be due to medical conditions, medications or surgeries. To learn about the risks and preventive measures, please review SBA’s health information sheet on osteoporosis.

Q: I am 21 years old and obese. Should I be worried about increased risk of health problems?

A: Obesity has been linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoarthritis, abnormal cholesterol metabolism, heart disease, sleep apnea, and psychological problems.
For people who have Spina Bifida, even more problems are associated with being seriously overweight. For more information, review SBA’s health information sheet on obesity.