The study underscores the work of previous researchers, who have shown that many African American children do not get the recommended levels of calcium in their diet. "Twenty percent of participating children consumed no milk in their diet whatsoever and 55 percent consumed less than one serving of milk per day. Only one-quarter of the children met the USDA standard," said Tosi.
Co-investigator Joseph Devaney, Ph.D., said the study could help lead to a more personalized approach to diabetes prevention. "The ultimate goal would be to be able to predict, from a child's genotype, his or her specific risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, and then develop a targeted preventative approach to mitigate those risk factors with specific lifestyle interventions such as increasing calcium intake or physical activity, for example," said Devaney, director of DNA technologies at Children's National Medical Center.
Although the researchers do not know the exact reason for the association, they speculate that calcium or related dietary factors may cause epigenetic changes that affect how the diabetes-linked genes are expressed.
"What got us interested in this is the whole question of how the environmentincluding a person's dietinfluences gene expression," said Tosi. Although scientists have intensely studied the impact of environmental factors during prenatal development and early infancy, few researchers have examined the impact of such factors later in childhood.
Understanding the interactions of genes and environmental factors in children is especially helpful for a disease as complex as diabetes, said Devaney. By the time an adult is diagnosed with diabetes, there are usually numerous risk factors that need to be addressed. "The earlier you can identify a person's risk factors, the better
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American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology