Obesity accounts for up to half of all type 2 diabetes cases in the US, according to new research, underscoring the need for stronger prevention.
The study, recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that the incidence of obesity increased in adults and was consistently higher in people with type 2 diabetes. Obesity has been linked to 30 to 53% of new type 2 diabetes diagnoses each year for the past two decades.
“Reducing obesity must be a priority,” said lead author Dr. Natalie A. Cameron in a press release. She is based in internal medicine at Northwestern University’s McGaw Medical Center in Chicago. “Public health efforts that support healthy lifestyles, such as improving access to nutritious foods, promoting physical activity and developing community obesity prevention programs, could significantly reduce new cases of type 2 diabetes.”
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and affects more than 31 million people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Being overweight or obese are one of several risk factors. Others are over 45 years old; have an immediate family member diagnosed with type 2 diabetes; be physically inactive; and having had diabetes during pregnancy.
The number of deaths from type 2 diabetes in people under 65 has increased, as have serious complications such as amputations and hospitalizations. Adults with diabetes are also twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as adults without diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes can often be prevented and even reversed through lifestyle changes. Previous research has shown that losing weight, eating a healthy diet, and increasing physical activity can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 58%, even in those at high risk. For people over 60, the risk can be reduced by up to 71%.
Type 2 diabetes is more common in people who are Black, Hispanic or Latino, Native Americans, Alaskan natives, Pacific islanders, or Americans from Asia. The new study included white, black, and Mexican-American adults ages 45 to 79 who did not have diabetes at the start of the study. The researchers analyzed the data collected from 2000 to 2017 in two studies, the Multiethnic Atherosclerosis Study (MESA) and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
In the NHANES analysis, they found that the incidence of obesity rose from 34% to 41% and was consistently higher in people with type 2 diabetes. In the MESA data, people with obesity were almost three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people without obesity. In both cases, those who were overweight were more likely to be Black or Mexicans, and being overweight was more common in people who earned less than $ 50,000 a year.
“We suspect that these differences may indicate important social determinants of health that are contributing to new cases of type 2 diabetes in addition to obesity,” said Cameron.
This study also found that non-Hispanic white women are the least likely to be obese. In this case, however, this group was most likely to develop type 2 diabetes related to obesity.
The researchers expressed concern about the collision of the obesity epidemic with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The greater severity of COVID-19 infection in those with obesity is worrying because of the growing exposure to adverse health effects that could arise in the years ahead,” said senior author Dr. Sadiya Khan in the press release. She is an assistant professor of medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. “More efforts are needed to help more adults lead healthier lifestyles and, hopefully, reduce the prevalence of obesity.”
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