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Big breasts; a hazard for type 2 diabetes?

Monday, June 01, 2009 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD



While it may sound like a ridiculous headline from The National Enquirer, a study published in 2008, actually found that all else being equal – women with larger breasts had an increased risk of type-2 diabetes.


The use of various anthropometric (human body) measurements to help predict disease risk is nothing new. As most are aware, body mass index is widely used to help physicians classify risk associated with excess weight. Also, as I reported in a 2007 study in the journal Diabetes Care, waist circumference (a measure of abdominal obesity) is another important measure of health risk, which gives information regarding your chance of developing type-2 diabetes beyond that explained by body mass index (Read more about this here). However, the notion that big breasts may predict risk of type 2 diabetes independent of other measures of obesity, is novel, and largely unexpected.


In the study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Ray and colleagues assessed the prospective risk of developing type-2 diabetes according to bra cup size among a sample of over 92 000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II.


The average age of the women at the start of the study was 38 years. During the 10 year follow up, a total of 1844 women developed type 2 diabetes.


After taking into consideration numerous established risk factors such as physical activity, smoking, diet, family history of diabetes, body mass index and waist circumference, among others, it was shown that in a graded fashion, the bigger the bra cup size – the greater the risk of developing diabetes. Specifically, in comparison to women with an A cup, women with a B, C, and D or greater bra cup had a 32, 71, and 58% greater risk of developing diabetes, respectively.


Despite the interesting observation, a number of limitations are inherent to this study.


First, what I did not mention above, is the fact that breast size was not directly measured. Instead, the women (aged 38 years) were asked to recall what bra size they wore when they were at 20 years of age. Given that self-report of current anthropometric characteristics is fraught with significant error and influenced by social desirability, the assessment of bra cup size via self-report is an obvious limitation.


Additionally, while it is assumed that breast size of tissue volume is the outcome of direct relevance, bra cup size (even when measured directly) may be a poor estimate of breast volume given that an estimated 50% of women do not wear the correct bra cup for their breast size.


Despite these shortcomings, the results are quite interesting.


Unfortunately, as is often the case, when the popular media started reporting on this study back in February of 2008, I remember seeing many comments to the effect of: “I had been thinking about breast reduction before, but now that I know I can not only relieve back pain, but also reduce my risk of diabetes, I am definitely going through with the procedure.”


There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that surgically reducing your breast size will lead to health improvement. In fact, to date, only this one single study (with its inherent limitations) shows any association between cup size and diabetes risk.


Until this finding is further explored and supported by additional studies, if you look like Dolly Parton or Pam Anderson, there is no need to fret about your risk of diabetes. More important are factors such as family history and current lifestyle.


More on this topic to follow in the future.


Peter


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Ray, J., Mohllajee, A., van Dam, R., & Michels, K. (2007). Breast size and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus Canadian Medical Association Journal, 178 (3), 289-295 DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.071086


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2 Response to "Big breasts; a hazard for type 2 diabetes?"

  1. Anonymous Said,

    I have 2 questions:
    1) why is a C cup a greaater risk than a D cup

    2) how do you know 50% of the nation's women are wearing the wrong cup size??

    this blog was my laugh of the day!

    Posted on June 1, 2009 at 6:16 PM

     
  2. Peter Janiszewski, PhD (Cand.), MSc Said,

    Dear Anonymous,

    1)We can't conclude that the risk of diabetes among those with C cup is greater than D cup - that statistical analysis was not performed. All we know is that the risk (of cup B, C and D) is greater in comparison to A cup.

    2) This is based on the following reference: Wright MCM. Graphical analysis of bra size calculation procedures. International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology. 2002;14: 41-45.

    Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Posted on June 8, 2009 at 9:53 PM

     

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