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Can obesity increase the risk of diabetes?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Yes, more than 80 percent of people with diabetes are overweight or obese. According to the Surgeon General’s report, gaining just 11 to 18 pounds increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes to twice that of people who have not gained weight.

Diabetes is a condition that keeps the body from regulating blood sugar. Type 1 or juvenile diabetes usually begins early in life. Type 2 diabetes is often referred to as adult-onset diabetes. This type of diabetes is directly linked to age, obesity, inactivity, and family history. In the US, diabetes affects more than 23.6 million children and adults in the United States—7.8 percent of the populationhas diabetes and about one-third of those with diabetes don’t know they have it.

About 80 to 90 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight.  However, losing the extra pounds helps manage blood glucose levels and improves diabetes.  While type 2 diabetes may be prevented and managed with weight loss, changes in diet, and regular physical activity, sometimes medication is necessary.

Without proper treatment, type 2 diabetes is the cause of complications such as coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, blindness, kidney failure and amputations.  Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Obesity is a risk factor of type 2 diabetes as well as any of the following:

  • People with prediabetes (impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and/or impaired fasting glucose (IFG))
  • People over age 45
  • People with a family history of diabetes
  • People who do not exercise regularly
  • People with low HDL cholesterol or high triglycerides, high blood pressure
  • Certain racial and ethnic groups (e.g., Non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians and Alaska Natives)
  • Women who had gestational diabetes, or who have had a baby weighing 9 pounds or more at birth

Find out if you are at risk for prediabetes or diabetes at www.diabetes.org/risktest

Ruth Frechman
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Visceral fat in the abdominal area and surrounding internal organs can increase inflammation, which may lead to heart disease and diabetes. If a person has subcutaneous fat on the legs and hips, it may not be as harmful. However, in general it's best to maintain a normal weight to prevent future health problems. Diabetes is an expensive health problem. It's best to avoid it or control it. 

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

One result of increased obesity among children is an associated increase in rates of type 2 diabetes, which used to be seen solely in adulthood. For children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, early intervention and treatment are a must. The sooner the family learns what the child needs to eat and how to manage all other aspects of the disease, the better off the child will be.

In fact, the entire family should consider eating in the same fashion as the child, because managing type 2 diabetes involves moderation, variety, and balance. Physical activity is also a major part of managing diabetes, and everyone can take part in this as well. Taking a family walk or bike ride after dinner and enjoying weekend games of basketball or tennis instead of turning on the TV are excellent ways to teach the importance of physical activity. The child is more likely to feel supported and succeed with keeping his or her diabetes under control if everyone in the family is educated about what to do to help.

Obesity is not only a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease; it also plays a central role in diabetes insulin resistance and has been linked to high blood pressure (another risk factor for diabetes). If you are overweight, losing those extra pounds will reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, improve your sensitivity to insulin, and help you to control your blood sugar levels.

Talk with your physician about an appropriate weight loss plan to help you manage your diabetes.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.