The link between being overweight and risk of diabetes

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Can being overweight increase the chances of developing Diabetes?

Diabetes is the most common chronic disease worldwide, and in the UK alone over five million people suffer from it. There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2 diabetes. While the exact causes of diabetes are still not fully understood, it is known that factors increase the risk of developing different types of diabetes. For type 2 diabetes, this includes being overweight or obese. Why exactly is this?

How are type 1 and type 2 diabetes different?

In type 1 diabetes the body stops producing insulin. It is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s defence system that normally protects against infections attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The only way to treat type 1 diabetes is by injecting insulin or wearing an insulin pump. Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented.

Type 2 diabetes is where the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells don’t react effectively to insulin. This is known as insulin sensitivity. This type of diabetes is usually treated with a combination of medications, healthy meal planning, physical activity, and perhaps insulin injections. Being overweight or obese and insufficient exercise not only increase the likelihood of type 2 diabetes, these factors can also worsen type 2 diabetes control. Since being overweight is one of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes, it’s true that it can be controlled or even prevented through diet.

Hard figures

The statistics speak for themselves and the connection between weight and type 2 diabetes is undisputed. In fact, women with a body mass index (the ratio of your height and weight, also referred to as BMI) of 35 or higher have a 92% chance of developing type 2 diabetes. For men, this percentage is 43%. With such a BMI, if you lose 7% of your body weight, you cut your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 60%! There could hardly be a clearer example of the relationship between excess weight and type 2 diabetes. What’s more, being overweight can also contribute to further health problems as type 2 diabetes is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The more pounds, the more insulin

We know that being overweight increases insulin sensitivity. This means that over time, diabetics needs to inject more and more insulin to counter their worsening insulin resistance. Losing weight responsibly has a positive effect on insulin sensitivity, and is also associated with significant improvements in blood pressure and blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Losing weight and lifestyle changes can alter the need for insulin treatment, and sometimes enable people to stop taking insulin altogether.


Whichever way you look at it, it’s best to keep the risk of developing type 2 diabetes low. Make sure sports and physical activity are part of your routine. If you have type 2 diabetes, there are a number of things you can do to remain healthy. So take action! People with a healthy lifestyle and who exercise regularly, possibly in combination with modern medications, are likely to experience positive effects quickly. A healthy lifestyle includes a healthy diet as well as sufficient sleep and relaxation. Balance is the magic word here! If necessary, ask your GP for advice.

How much exercise is enough?

If you’re not used to exercising, then start with walking or swimming. Of course, a combination of both would be ideal, but don’t overdo it. In the UK, the Chief Medical Office (CMO) has drawn up physical activity guidelines, which can be used as a guideline for how much physical activity is needed to improve or maintain physical fitness. To meet the healthy exercise norm, keep in mind the duration (total of 30 to 60 minutes broking into episodes of at least 10 minutes), frequency (at least five days a week) and intensity (moderate, resulting in increased respiration and heartbeat). This recommended daily exercise regimen will have a positive effect on type 2 diabetes management. Again, consult your GP first before embarking on a programme or contact Diabetes UK for more information. For ideas, tips and inspiration you can also visit the website of the NHS.


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