Obesity Helps Drive Half of New Diabetes Cases

“It also requires policy changes,” Khan said, citing examples such as taxes on soft drinks and efforts to make fruits and vegetables more accessible in low-income neighborhoods.

The results, published on February 10 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, are based on two large, ongoing studies of the health and lifestyle of Americans.

One followed middle-aged and older adults for a decade, finding that almost 12% developed type 2 diabetes during that time. The odds were much higher in obese participants: 20% had been diagnosed with diabetes, compared to 7% of other adults.

The other data source was the federal government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which periodically collects health information from a nationally representative sample of Americans.

By bringing the two studies together, Khan’s team calculated the number of new cases of diabetes that could be attributed to obesity.

At the end of the study period – 2013-2016 – around 53% of diabetes diagnoses could be linked to obesity.

The effects, however, were not uniform. Obesity had the greatest impact on the risk of diabetes for white women, and the least for black and Hispanic Americans.

That’s not to say obesity was unimportant to them, Khan said. But, she said, other factors – from difficulty getting health care to everyday stress to structural racism – may also be critical in minority type 2 diabetes risk.

The good news is that studies “left no doubt” that lifestyle measures may reduce diabetes risk, said Katherine O’Neal, associate professor at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Oklahoma .

And for people who are obese, even modest weight loss brings benefits, said O’Neal, who is also a spokesperson for the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists.

The key is sustainability. “The most important factor is that these changes need to be a way of life and not temporary changes,” O’Neal said.

Support not only from health care providers but also from family and friends goes a long way, she added.

For low-income people, O’Neal said community health clinics and churches can be sources of information and motivation.

Exercise, she stressed, doesn’t have to involve a gym: running in place, using canned foods as a weight, and parking away from the entrance to the grocery store – walking in it, then doing a few laps around it – are simple ways to incorporate activity into the day.

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Jothi Venkat

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