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The Relationship Between Obesity and Type II Diabetes

written by: Dr. Kristie Leong • edited by: lrohner • updated: 1/14/2011

Are people who are obese at higher risk for diabetes? Find out more about the relationship between type II diabetes and obesity - and what you can do to lower your risk.

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    Type II diabetes is a disease that’s being diagnosed with increasing frequency. Estimates are that up to 7% of the population have this condition, although many don’t know it. Once a disease most common in older people, type II diabetes is now showing up in children and teens at an alarming rate. Most experts blame this rise in type II diabetes on lifestyle factors, especially obesity. What is the relationship between type II diabetes and obesity?

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    Type II Diabetes and Obesity

    Other than heredity and age, obesity is the greatest risk factor for type II diabetes. Why are obesity and type II diabetes so closely linked? Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas that ferrys glucose in the bloodstream into cells where it can be used for energy; and people who carry around excess body fat are at higher risk for insulin resistance.

    Because people who are obese are often resistant to the effects of the insulin they produce, the pancreas has to pump out more and more of this important hormone to meet the body’s demand. This means there’s lots of insulin in the bloodstream, but the cells and tissues aren’t able to easily use it due to presence of insulin resistance.

    At first, the pancreas is able to produce enough additional insulin to get glucose into the cells, and keep blood sugars under control. But in many people the pancreas is eventually unable to “keep up", and insulin production slows down to the point it can’t meet the body’s needs. That’s when blood sugars in obese people start to rise, and they develop full-blown type II diabetes.

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    Why Do Obese People Develop Insulin Resistance?

    No one knows exactly why obese people become insulin resistance. Some research suggests that fat tissue produces hormone-like chemicals called adipokines that contribute to the problem of insulin resistance. People with insulin resistance also have fewer insulin receptors or ones that are less functional. Whatever the mechanism may be, insulin resistance and obesity are often seen together – and insulin resistance can progress to type II diabetes. So strongly is body weight associated with type II diabetes that nine out of ten people with it are either overweight or obese.

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    Type II Diabetes and Obesity: Taming the Beast

    Fortunately, losing weight reduces the risk of type II diabetes in obese people by up to half. Even small amounts of weight loss and more physical activity can help tame the type II diabetes beast, a disease that’s strongly influenced by lifestyle.

    There’s much more to learn about how type 2 diabetes and obesity are related, but the message is clear. Losing weight if you’re overweight or obese reduces the risk of the disease and its many complications – and that’s a change that’s well worth making.

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    References

    The Obesity Society. “Your Weight and Diabetes"

    Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.

    Medscape.com. “Obesity and Diabetes on the Rise"