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How Obesity and Diabetes Are Linked

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Learn about the risks and how to overcome them

Posted by Rohit Soans, MD

If you're one of thousands who've struggled with obesity, you're not alone. Approximately 40% of Americans ages 20 to 39 are considered obese, and that number gets higher with increasing age. To add further fuel to the fire, people who are obese are approximately 10 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes — the most common form of diabetes — which in many cases is treatable.

Over the past few decades, the number of people with obesity has increased — and with it the number of type 2 diabetes cases.

Researchers believe this rise in type 2 diabetes cases may unfortunately be linked to childhood obesity rates, which have risen steadily since the 1980s. This is definitely a cause for concern. So much so that researchers have coined the term "Diabesity" to describe this phenomenon, and fear it may be at epidemic proportions.

Being overweight is a major risk for people infected with coronavirus (COVID-19). In the United States, obesity levels are increasing. This makes those who are obese vulnerable to the serious cases of COVID-19 due to additional health conditions like diabetes.

The Basics: Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes

Obesity means you have a body weight more than what is considered normal. Extra weight — especially when it's located in the area of your belly — can lead to insulin resistance. This is when your body can't produce enough insulin, a hormone that helps your body process the energy your cells need.

Many people are not aware that they're insulin resistant, yet insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes often go hand in hand.

Type 2 diabetes put you at risk for a number of life-threatening conditions, including:

It can also lead to:

Even without type 2 diabetes, obesity alone puts you at risk for even more conditions, including:

Individually, obesity and type 2 diabetes are complex conditions. In combination, they can be deadly. Although some people may manage type 2 diabetes with healthy eating and lifestyle management, others require treatment with diabetes medicines, including pills or insulin injections.

Reversing Diabesity: Getting Started

Increasing your activity and losing a modest amount of weight can help you overcome the effects of Diabesity, and reduce the need for diabetes medications. That said, if it was that easy, 1 in 3 adults would not be considered obese. Many factors contribute to obesity, and getting down to a healthy weight is not always a calories in, calories out solution.

Here are a few strategies to help you get started:

1. Set a reasonable weight-loss goal.

Losing 5% of your total weight results in health benefits, and may reduce your need for diabetes medications. The most successful weight-loss programs include a combination of diet, physical activity and support. Play the long game and talk to your doctor about the best weight-loss program for you.

2. Consider a support group.

Friends, family members and others who are working to lose weight can lift you up and give you reasons to believe when you need support. Look for people to share your goals with, even if it's through an online support group or a digital app. If you don't know where to look for support, ask your doctor, a dietitian or a nutritionist for recommendations.

3. Look into bariatric surgery.

Studies show that bariatric surgery may help reverse type 2 diabetes and decrease your need for diabetes medications. It may also help you resolve obesity-related issues, such as sleep apnea and high blood pressure.

If you're significantly overweight, have tried unsuccessfully to lose weight in the past or have an obesity-related condition, you may meet the criteria for bariatric surgery. Talk to your doctor about your options.

Find out if you're a candidate for bariatric surgery >

Although the Diabesity epidemic is at a critical level in the U.S., the power to prevent, treat and reverse it is within our reach. Partner with your healthcare team to develop a plan that works for you. Will it be easy? Probably not, but with support, you can be up to the challenge.

Helpful Resources

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Rohit Soans, MD

Rohit Soans, MD, is Medical Director of Bariatric Surgery at Temple University Hospital. He is also Assistant Professor of Surgery at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. His clinical interests include metabolic and bariatric surgery, minimally invasive and robotic general surgery, gastrointestinal disorders, and outcomes following bariatric surgery.

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