According to the National Institute of Health, about 80% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Without a doubt, obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes because increased body fat makes it difficult for the body to use insulin properly.
Does this mean that diabetes is just a disease of the obese? Unfortunately, being skinny is not always a protection against diabetes. Many who do not fit the typical physical description of a diabetic-overweight and older-can get diabetes. Although increased body weight is a risk factor for diabetes, it is not the only risk factor. Lean people can be at risk for type 2 diabetes for other reasons not directly related to body weight. This risk, however, is low especially in comparison to obese individuals.
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It's in the Genes
Aside from commonly known risk factors for diabetes, such as excess weight and old age, there are two strong risk factors for diabetes that are often overlooked-genes and family history. Some people are born more likely to have diabetes, regardless of their weight. In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association, type 2 diabetes has a stronger link to family history than type 1 diabetes, especially in twins. If one twin has type 2, the other twin's risk is up to 75%. A research study published in PloS Genetics found that most lean cases are people with a strong genetic predisposition for type 2 diabetes. Even a family history of heart disease can increase a person's risk for diabetes.
It's important to note that in the field of health and nutrition, the word "skinny" does not always mean "healthy". Even a relatively skinny person can have a poor diet and low activity levels. Unhealthy lifestyle choices can increase the risk for diabetes. Low physical activity encourages insulin resistance. Coupled with a poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to increased body fat, especially a dangerous type of body fat called visceral fat. This type of fat is not the fat found under the skin. This is the fat that surrounds internal organs, especially around the waist area.
Such poor lifestyle choices increase the risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, and high triglyceride levels in the blood. All of these health problems can encourage the development of type 2 diabetes as well.
Smoking can also increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, regardless of your body weight. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, a heavy smoker (16-25 cigarettes/day) has a risk for type 2 diabetes three times greater than that of a non-smoker.
Research has shown that certain population groups are more susceptible to diabetes than others. For example, thin cases of diabetes are more common in the elderly or certain non-Caucasian ethnicities. These include African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Since these ethnic backgrounds are more vulnerable to diabetes, body weight may not make a huge difference in the risk for diabetes.
During pregnancy, women can develop a temporary type of diabetes called gestational diabetes. If this occurs, their chances of developing type 2 diabetes are higher for the next decade or so, regardless of their weight. If a woman gave birth to at least one baby weighing more than 9 pounds, she is at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes regardless of her weight or family history.
Understand Diabetes to Prevent or Delay It
There are overweight people without diabetes and thin people with diabetes. However, the diabetes epidemic (nationally and globally) lies mainly, but not exclusively, in obese individuals. According to a 2014 study published in Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes for overweight people is about 1.5-5 times higher than normal weight individuals.
Many of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes in lean people are out of their control, such as family history or genes. Weight, on the other hand, is a factor that can be controlled. If you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, weight loss is an important measure to take to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes.
The facts show that people can develop type 2 diabetes at any age or weight, even during childhood or in a lean person. However, this type of diabetes develops most often in middle-aged and older people. Regardless of the risk factors you may or may not have, it is important to recognize the warning signs of diabetes and to make healthy lifestyle choices that can help prevent it.
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