It's those damn Scots again....

MP blames 'in-breeding' for rising diabetes in constituency

10th August 2006

Dr Ian Gibson MP has blamed "in-breeding" for the rising rate of diabetes in his constituency (another Scotsman running an ENGLISH constitutency)

A leading Labour MP has provoked fury after claiming his Norfolk constituents are inbred.

Dr Ian Gibson said relationships among close relatives were rife in the county, causing the number of children suffering type 1 diabetes to rocket.

But he came under fire from experts who rubbished his 'insulting' theory and furious locals who accused him of promoting an outdated stereotype.

And in a surprise twist, it emerged that Norfolk and Dr Gibson's native Scotland are the only areas in the UK with unusually HIGH levels of the disease among children (again, the English are healthier).

Medical experts are unsure what causes diabetes. The general consensus is that it is probably triggered by several factors including environment, infections and genetics.

The veteran Labour MP spoke out after research showed the level of type 1 diabetes among Norfolk children is more than double the national average.

"I would imagine it is linked to the fact that people in Norfolk are quite inbred with not many leaving the county," said Dr Gibson, a former chairman of the Commons science and technology committee who represents Norwich North.

"It is something that needs to be looked at as a priority, especially as many cases are linked with obesity too."

Asked if he thought people would be offended by his comments, he said: "Probably - but they are inbred.

"If you look at the names in Norfolk, there's a lot of them that are the same.

"There is an inbreeding complex in Norfolk villages - people inter-marry.

"That might mean more of them have got the same gene which predisposes them to it."

More than a quarter of a million people in the UK have type 1 diabetes, which stops the body producing the hormone insulin needed to convert sugar into energy.

It can cause problems such as strokes, heart disease and blindness and is treated with insulin injections.

The condition mostly affects older people but around 20,000 children suffer from the disease.

A total of 345 children in Norfolk have the condition - more than double the 160 expected for the size of the population.

Cambridge University is currently carrying out a major study into why Scotland and Norfolk have the highest levels.

Dr Gibson made the controversial comments in his local newspaper. His theory was widely criticised yesterday.

Norwich City Councillor Antony Little said: "For a very intelligent man, Dr Gibson has made a very stupid comment based on a narrow stereotype.

"The idea that inbreeding is very widespread is ridiculous and his comments don't stand up to medical scrutiny.

"He should apologise to the people of Norfolk."

Norfolk County Councillor Charles Joyce fumed: "He can't go around saying things like this without medical proof to support it.

"He needs to put up or shut up."

Dr Ketan Dhatariya, consultant diabetologist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, branded the MP's remarks 'disgraceful'.

"It's an insult to people with type 1 diabetes and their families and it's an insult to people in Norfolk.

"It's not the way that the genetics works. There is a genetic element but it may be triggered by an environmental factor. Nobody knows why numbers are rising."

Unhealthy diets may also help trigger diabetes.

Diabetes UK said genetics was unlikely to be the prime cause of the increase in diabetes cases in Norfolk.

A spokeswoman for Diabetes UK accused the MP of being 'insensitive'.

"Inbreeding is a very controversial word and has implications of incest," she said.

Head of research at Diabetes UK, Dr Angela Wilson, said an increasingly diverse population could be at the root of the problem - torpedoing Dr Gibson's claim that there was not enough new blood.

"In Norfolk in recent years there has been a rapid influx of people carrying new infections into a previously stable and relatively isolated population and is more likely that this is a contributory factor," she said.

Dr Gibson was born in Dumfries and gained a PhD in genetics at Edinburgh University.

He was Dean of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia until 1997, when he became an MP.

He has since built up a reputation as an outspoken rebel who has voted against the government on many key policies.

He stood by his comments yesterday, saying: "My purpose in bringing this up is not to denigrate anyone but to try and understand why there is a high rate of diabetes among children in Norfolk."

Dr Gibson, who is 67, has not said whether he will stand at the next general election.