Diabetes Rates Are Rising in America Because of Obesity

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Diabetes is a full-fledged American epidemic, as it is commonly found in the American population. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), in 2012, 29.1 million Americans (9.3 percent of the population) had diabetes. Just two years prior, in 2010, only 8.3 percent of the population was diabetic. Additionally, an estimated 86 million Americans over the age of 20 were believed to be prediabetic in 2012. While diabetes is not instantly fatal, it was the 7th leading cause of death in the United States in 2010, claiming nearly 70,000 lives.

Now, a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine has found the biggest culprit to the increasing rate of diabetes in the country. According to the researchers, who used data from five National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, obesity is the biggest contributor to the increased incidence and prevalence of diabetes.

“There has been a substantial increase in obesity in the U.S. population during this study,” said lead author of the study, Andy Menke, an epidemiologist with Social & Scientific Systems, to TIME magazine.

“Carrying extra body weight and body fat go hand and hand with the development of type 2 diabetes,” explains Obesity.org about the weight-diabetes association. “People who are overweight are at much greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than normal weight individuals. Being overweight puts added pressure on the body’s ability to properly control blood sugar using insulin and therefore makes it much more likely for you to develop diabetes. Almost 90 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. The number of diabetes cases among American adults jumped by a third during the 1990s, and more increases are expected. This rapid increase in diabetes is due to the growing prevalence of obesity and extra weight in the United States population.”

One of the findings of the study was that the prevalence of diabetes nearly doubled from 1976 to 1980 and from 1999 to 2004. Another key finding was that the spike in diabetes was more common in men than women; men jumped from 5 percent to 11 percent while women rose from 6 percent to 9 percent.

“Overweight and obesity explained most of the increase in the prevalence of diabetes in the U.S. during this time period,” said Menke to HealthDay, adding that factors like age, race, and ethnicity “had little influence on changes in diabetes prevalence” during the study time period. “Changes over time in the distribution of age, race, and ethnicity, and obesity in the population explained all of the increase in women but only half of the increase in men,” added Menke. “It’s not entirely clear why some people who have maintained a healthy weight their entire lives develop type 2 diabetes while other people who are obese never develop it.”

According to the ADA, obesity (or a large body mass index) is one risk factory for type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes. Other risk factors include age, race, ethnicity, and a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asians and Pacific Islanders are known to have higher rates of diabetes than Caucasians. But of all the factors, weight is the most significant risk factor.

The increase in the prevalence of diabetes was greater in men than in women in the U.S. population between 1976 to 1980 and 2007 to 2010,” wrote the authors of the study. “After changes in age, race, ethnicity, and body mass index were controlled for, the increase in diabetes prevalence over time was approximately halved in men and diabetes prevalence was no longer increased in women.

That said, the scientists advise that more research needs to be done and point out the fact that “some possible risk factors such as physical activity, waist circumference, and mortality could not be studied because data on these variables were not collected in all surveys.

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