How are weight and diabetes related?


Being overweight is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, but other risk factors such as family history, ethnicity and age also play a role. Unfortunately, too many people disregard the other risk factors for diabetes and think that weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes, and many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.

Dr. Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD

Being overweight is linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. In this video, Athena, Philis-Tsimikas, MD, an endocrinologist at Scripps Health explains how being overweight increases insulin resistance to boost your diabetes risk.

Being overweight or obese is a leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Being overweight can keep your body from making and using insulin properly, and can also cause high blood pressure.

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William Lee Dubois

Weight is a really amazing risk factor for diabetes, but it’s not simple either. First off, let’s be clear, being fat does not cause diabetes. If it did, half the nation would have diabetes, because right now, half the nation is seriously overweight. In point of fact, about 10 percent of the nation has diabetes, so 80 percent of overweight people have ducked the bullet.

But please set down the Twinkie. I’m not done yet. If you’ve got a genetic pre-disposition for diabetes, the two most common triggers are age and weight. It used to be that Type-2 diabetes showed up around 40 years of age. The reason for that is that 40 seemed to be that magic tipping point of enough age combined with having been married long enough to get sloppy about one’s weight (of course no one noticed they were getting heavy, they just thought that their spouse was shrinking their pants in the laundry).

But now we are seeing a fascinating and scary trend. People are getting T-2 diabetes earlier and earlier. Why? Because people are getting fatter and fatter and earlier and earlier ages.

We now have cases of children developing full blow T-2 diabetes at ages as young as 9. What makes this triple-scary is that they need to live with diabetes for a longer time period, and for some reason early onset seems to trigger a more aggressive form of the disease. Some experts believe that pre-teens diagnosed with T-2 will pre-decease their parents.

And before we close, quickly back to the “genetic predisposition,” don’t think that you are risk-free for diabetes just because no one in your family tree ever had it. Every human ever born is the joining to two family trees. Just because your mother didn’t have diabetes and just because you father didn’t have diabetes doesn’t mean that something new won’t cop up when mixing the two sets of genes.

Laura Russell
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Another aspect of weight and diabetes: Sometimes when a person has had elevated blood glucose levels for a while, they begin to lose weight. Their body is not able to use the energy from their food. Often, when the person's blood sugars begin to come down (maybe through diet, exercise, medication, insulin), they regain some of the weight that was lost. This is not necessarily bad in that it means the body is beginning to work normally again.

Skyrocketing rates of diabetes are directly linked to America's burgeoning waistline. More than 85 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, according to the National Institutes of Health. It's not clear why being overweight boosts diabetes risk, but experts suspect extra pounds—especially belly fat—make body cells resist the hormone insulin, which carries glucose in the blood to cells to use as energy. When you develop insulin resistance, cells can't take up the glucose, resulting in high blood sugar levels.

Continue Learning about Diabetes


Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.

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.