Diabetes and Obesity
The UK currently ranks as the country with the highest level of obesity in Europe, with more than 1 in 4 (28.1%) adults obese and nearly two out of three (63.4%) overweight.
Over the next 20 years, the number of obese adults in the country is forecast to soar to 26 million people.
Obesity is also no longer a condition that just affects older people, although the likelihood does increase with age, and increasing numbers of young people have been diagnosed with obesity.
Data from Public Health England suggests that nearly a third (31.2%) of children aged 2 to 15 years old are obese.
Links between obesity and type 2 diabetes
While the exact causes of diabetes are still not fully understood, it is known that factors up the risk of developing different types of diabetes mellitus.
For type 2 diabetes, this includes being overweight or obese (having a body mass index - BMI - of 30 or greater).
In fact, obesity is believed to account for 80-85% of the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while recent research suggests that obese people are up to 80 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with a BMI of less than 22.
How does obesity cause type 2 diabetes?
It is a well-known fact that if you are overweight or obese, you are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, particularly if you have excess weight around your tummy (abdomen).
Studies suggest that abdominal fat causes fat cells to release ‘pro-inflammatory’ chemicals, which can make the body less sensitive to the insulin it produces by disrupting the function of insulin responsive cells and their ability to respond to insulin.
This is known as insulin resistance - the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
Having excess abdominal fat (i.e. a large waistline) is known as central or abdominal obesity, a particularly high-risk form of obesity.
Diabetes and obesity are closely linked. Charity Diabetes UK states that obesity accounts for between 80 and 85% of the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The charity notes that central obesity, having a large waistline, is a better predictor of type 2 diabetes than BMI values.
Being obese raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. With this said, there are other risk factors involved as well, such as genetics, ethnicity and age. Not all people who are obese are diabetic and not all people with type 2 diabetes are, or have been, obese.
There are a number of factors which can contribute to becoming obese:
- Eating a high calorie diet
- Not getting enough physical exercise
- Medical conditions
The NHS states that, for those that are obese, a loss of 5% of body weight along with regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by over 50%.
Loss of body weight has been shown to improve blood glucose levels and has allowed people with type 2 diabetes to come off or avoid going onto insulin.
The following steps are listed by the NHS and Diabetes UK to help with losing weight:
- Avoid reliance on refined carbohydrates
- Base main meals around vegetables
- Be wary of misleading food packaging - low fat does not necessarily mean low calorie
- Don’t rely on processed foods and takeaways for regular meals
- Watch your alcohol intake - alcohol is highly calorific
- Watch portion sizes - many of us in the UK are eating larger portions than we need
- Take regular physical activity - find ways to avoid reliance on motorised transport
Disruption in fat metabolism
Obesity is also thought to trigger changes to the body's metabolism. These changes cause fat tissue (adipose tissue) to release fat molecules into the blood, which can affect insulin responsive cells and lead to reduced insulin sensitivity.
Another theory put forward by scientists into how obesity could lead to type 2 diabetes is that obesity causes prediabetes, a metabolic condition that almost always develops into type 2 diabetes.
The links between obesity and type 2 diabetes are firmly established - without the intervention of a healthy diet and appropriate exercise, obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes over a relatively short period of time.
The good news is that reducing your body weight, by even a small amount, can help improve your body's insulin sensitivity and lower your risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and types of cancer.
According to the NHS, a 5% reduction in body weight followed up by regular moderate intensity exercise could reduce your type 2 diabetes risk by more than 50%.
For information on how to lose weight safely, how to stay motivated, and the benefits of shedding weight, see our guide on diabetes and weight loss.
Cost of obesity
In the UK, the cost to the NHS of obesity and related conditions such as type 2 diabetes is putting a huge, unsustainable drain on NHS resources.
Treating obesity, type 2 diabetes and diabetic complications such as nephropathy, heart disease and amputation is very costly, and with new cases of obesity-related type 2 diabetes soaring each year in the UK, these costs are expected to keep rising.
To tackle this problem, there is a need for widespread and far-reaching culturally appropriate educational literature that informs the population of the risk of eating badly and not taking exercise.
Making lifestyle changes
Making healthy lifestyle changes can often prevent obesity, and in order to avoid a healthcare crisis the UK needs to spread information that highlights the importance of doing just that, especially amongst children.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 2.8 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese
- In 2008, over 40 million preschool children were overweight worldwide
- The WHO suggests that more than 1 in 4 (28.1%) of adults in the UK are obese (has a BMI of 30 or more).
- The UK has the highest level of adult obesity in Europe
- Copeland in Cumbria is the most overweight local authority in England
- Studies into obesity prevention have shown that giving up watching television for a week reduces a child's waist size by an average 2.3cm (just under 1 inch)