Body Weight and Diabetes

The increased incidence of diabetes around the world is directly linked to the rate of weight gain globally, but research shows even modest weight loss can make a big difference.
Body Weight and Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people who have been diagnosed with diabetes lose a moderate amount of weight, approximately 7% of current body weight,1 and the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests attaining a healthy body weight (a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or less). 2

Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, and about 1.9 million new cases were diagnosed in 2010. 3 Worldwide, diabetes strikes more than 220 million people. 2 Roughly 90 percent of cases are Type 2, the form linked to obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 85.2% of people diagnosed with diabetes were overweight with a BMI greater than 25 and 54.8% were obese with a BMI over 30. 4 People with diabetes who are also obese are more likely to have poorer control over their blood sugars than those who are not overweight, and they are likely to have more problems with high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.

The combination of excess weight and diabetes is also associated with a greater risk for cardiovascular disease and developing complications from the diabetes, such as blindness and kidney disease.

The Impact of Weight Loss
While the statistics may seem grim, there is good news when it comes to both the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Two hallmark trials, one done in Finland and the other in the U.S., conclusively found that modest weight losses can make a dramatic difference in preventing the development of diabetes among people who are at a high risk for developing the disease.

In the Finnish trial, the risk was reduced by 58 percent, with the reduction being directly attributed to lifestyle change. 5 The U.S. study also reduced the incidence by 58 percent with a 7% weight loss that was achieved with a lifestyle modification program that included diet and physical activity. 6

For those who are overweight and already have diabetes, modest weight loss can also make a big difference.

In one study, weight loss was associated with a 25% reduction in total mortality, a 28% reduction in deaths due to cardiovascular disease and complications from the diabetes. A weight loss of 20-29 pounds was linked with the greatest benefit. 7

To help prevent diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends that people diagnosed as being at risk of developing diabetes lose at least 7% of their body weight and increase physical activity to at least 150 min/week of moderate activity. 1

View footnotes


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1American Diabetes Association.Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2011.. Diabetes Care. 2010;34(Supplement 1):S11-S61.

2World Health Organization.Diabetes Fact Sheet . No. 312. January 2011.

3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). National diabetes fact sheet: national estimates and general information on diabetes and prediabetes in the United States, 2011.. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011.

4Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults with diagnosed diabetes--United States, 1988-1994 and 1999-2002. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2004 Nov 19;53(45):1066-8.

5Tuomilehto J, Lindstrom J, Eriksson JG, Valle TT, Hamalainen H, Ilanne-Parikka P, Keinanen-Kiukaanniemi S, Laakso M, Louheranta A, Rastas M, Salminen V, Uusitupa M; Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study Group. Prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus by changes in lifestyle among subjects with impaired glucose tolerance. N Engl J Med. 2001 May 3;344(18):1343-50.

6Knowler WC, Barrett-Connor E, Fowler SE, Hamman RF, Lachin JM, Walker EA, Nathan DM; Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. N Engl J Med. 2002 Feb 7;346(6):393-403.

7Williamson DF, Thompson TJ, Thun M, Flanders D, Pamuk E, Byers T. Intentional weight loss and mortality among overweight individuals with diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2000 Oct;23(10):1499-504.