WEDNESDAY, February 10, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Obesity is the culprit of up to half of all new cases of diabetes in Americans each year, according to a new study.
The researchers found that obesity accounted for 30% to 53% of new type 2 diabetes diagnoses in middle-aged Americans and older Americans in nearly two decades. This higher percentage was observed in recent years as obesity prevalence increased nationally.
“It clearly looks like trends in obesity and type 2 diabetes run parallel to each other,” said study author Dr. Sadiya Khan, Assistant Professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Obesity is known to be a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body loses sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar. The reasons for the link are not fully understood, but extra fat tissue can alter the body’s cells in ways that make it difficult for them to use insulin, according to the US National Institutes of Health.
Eventually, type 2 diabetes can lead to complications such as heart disease, kidney failure, and damage to the nerves in the eyes or limbs.
These consequences are far-reaching given the prevalence of type 2 diabetes. In the United States alone, more than 31 million people have diabetes – the vast majority of them have type 2, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new findings, Khan said, underscore the impact obesity has on these numbers.
“This sets off the alarm,” she said.
At the same time, Khan added, the results imply that many cases of type 2 diabetes could be averted through measures such as healthier eating and regular exercise.
She acknowledged that this is easier said than done: Years of rising obesity rates have made it clear that simply telling Americans to change their habits doesn’t work.
“It’s not about waving your finger at people,” said Khan.
Low-income Americans in particular face major challenges, she noted. You may not have the money or the time to prepare healthy meals, or the time or safe places to exercise.
“This also requires changes at the political level,” said Khan, citing examples such as soda taxes and efforts to make fruits and vegetables more accessible in low-income areas.
The findings, published February 10 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, are based on two large, ongoing studies tracking Americans’ health and lifestyle habits.
One tracked middle-aged and older adults for a decade and found that nearly 12% developed type 2 diabetes during that time. The chances were much higher in obese participants: 20% were diagnosed with diabetes and 7% of the other adults.
The other data source was the federal government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which regularly collects health information from a nationally representative sample of Americans.
Khan’s team put the two studies together and calculated the number of new cases of diabetes attributable to obesity.
By the end of the study period (2013-2016), an estimated 53% of diabetes diagnoses could be related to obesity.
However, the effects were not uniform. Obesity had the largest impact on white women ‘s risk of diabetes and a lesser impact on black and Hispanic Americans.
That doesn’t mean obesity wasn’t important to them, Khan pointed out. However, other factors – from health care difficulties to everyday stress to structural racism – could also be critical to minority type 2 diabetes risk.
The good news is that the studies left “no question” that lifestyle interventions can lower the risk of diabetes, said Katherine O’Neal, associate professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy.
And for people who are overweight, there is already a modest amount of weight loss benefits, said O’Neal, who is also a spokesman for the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists.
The key is sustainability. “The most important factor is that these changes must be a lifestyle, not a temporary change,” said O’Neal.
Support not only from health care providers but also from family members and friends goes a long way, she added.
For people on low incomes, O’Neal said, community health clinics and churches can be resources for information and motivation.
Exercise, she stressed, doesn’t have to involve a gym: running in place, using canned food as weights, and parking far from the grocery store entrance – walking there and then doing a few laps – are easy ways to get activity Integrate day.
The Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists is more concerned with treating diabetes.
SOURCES: Dr. med. Sadiya Khan, MSc, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Preventive Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago; Katherine O’Neal, PharmD, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacy: Clinical and Administrative Sciences, University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy, Oklahoma City, and Spokesperson, Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists, Chicago; American Heart Association Journal, February 10, 2021, online