New research has linked obesity in the United States with the development of diabetes in significant numbers of middle-aged and older adults.
A new estimate suggests that obesity may play a role in as many as 50% of new diabetes cases each year. In research conducted over nearly 20 years, obesity was found to contribute to between 30% and 53% of new cases of type 2 diabetes in adults who are middle-aged and older. Even higher percentages have been recognized in recent years as the prevalence of obesity continues to rise.
It’s long been known that obesity is a major risk factor in developing type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body’s sensitivity to the hormone insulin declines. Insulin is essential to regulating blood sugar. Although the reasons for the connection between obesity and diabetes are not completely understood, the U.S. National Institutes of Health suggests that extra fat tissue may alter body cells, making it more difficult for them to use insulin.
“It very clearly looks like trends in obesity and type 2 diabetes run parallel to each other,” said study author Sadiya Khan, MD, MSc, an assistant professor of cardiology and epidemiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. The study was recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 31 million people in America have diabetes, the vast majority of whom have type 2.
The recent findings accentuate the impact of obesity on the number of individuals with type 2 diabetes. “This raises the alarm,” Khan said. Additional concerns focus on type 2 diabetes’ likelihood of eventual complications such as heart disease, damage to nerves in the eyes or limbs and kidney failure.
New findings additionally suggested that many cases of type 2 diabetes could be averted through measures such as lifestyle modifications, including healthy eating and regular exercise. However, she admitted that the continuing increase in obesity nationwide has indicated that Americans are disinclined to alter their habits, despite the knowledge of the health problems linked to obesity.
Katherine S. O’Neal, PharmD, MBA, BCACP, CDE, BC-ADM, AE-C, CLS, FAADE, an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy, suggests that the study left “no question” that lifestyle measures can reduce the risk of diabetes. She said that for people who are obese, even a small amount of weight loss offers benefits. According to O’Neal, who is also a spokesperson for the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists, “The most important factor is that these changes need to be a lifestyle, and not temporary changes.”
Speak with your provider about lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Such changes can involve dietary modifications, exercise programs and strategies aimed at maintaining good health.