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Diabetes & Obesity, Two Epidemics

Diabetes Up, Obesity to Blame
Oversized Bodies Feeding Flames of Diabetes Epidemic

A new study spells out why Americans suffer more diabetes than ever before: O-B-E-S-I-T-Y.

There's a diabetes epidemic in the U.S. There's also an obesity epidemic. Could it be a coincidence? Not likely.

The new study, which included CDC statistician Linda S. Geiss, looks only at newly diagnosed diabetes cases. It shows that indeed more and more people do have diabetes. And after controlling for other things that affect diabetes, the study shows that people with diabetes overwhelmingly tend to have one thing in common: being obese or overweight.

"This study confirms that obesity is a major factor in the increase in diabetes," Geiss tells WebMD.

Geiss and colleagues analyzed data collected every year from a national sample of some 31,000 Americans. In addition to detailed health and demographic data, each person was asked if he or she had ever been told by a health professional that they have diabetes.

From 1997 to 2003, there was a 41% increase in the incidence of diagnosed diabetes. In 2003, two out of every 1,000 normal-weight people had diabetes. In the same year, diabetes struck 18.3 out of every 1,000 obese people, and 5.5 out of every 1,000 overweight people.

And that's just people who know they have diabetes. Many people with diabetes have not yet been diagnosed.

Geiss and colleagues report their findings in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Other Factors Involved

Obesity is by far the best predictor of being newly diagnosed with diabetes. But it's not the only one.

"Age, race, and educational level all are associated with diabetes," Geiss says. "Race has an effect over and above body mass. It is not just that some people weigh more. It could be genetic influences, or it could be that being overweight has a more toxic effect in these groups."

Even so, there's not much you can do about your race or your age. There is a lot you can do about your weight-related diabetes risk.

"Diabetes can be prevented among people at high risk," Geiss says. "It will take some minor but admittedly difficult lifestyle changes: becoming active, and losing a little bit of weight. We need to find, on a population level, effective interventions that can help us do that."

To this end, the CDC this May will convene its first-ever scientific conference on diabetes and obesity.

SOURCES: Geiss, L.A. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, May 2006; vol 30: pp 371-377. Linda S. Geiss, team leader of diabetes surveillance, Division of Diabetes Translation, CDC, Atlanta.