Does obesity increase your disease risk or not?

There are many possible reasons why some obese people are healthier than others. One is exercise. As we observed in a previous issue, mildly obese people who exercise regularly can have just as high a level of fitness as a thin gym-goer.

Another factor could be where the fat is carried. At least one study we’ve reported on shows that people who carry fat in their abdomen are far more likely to suffer from heart disease, even if their body mass index (BMI) is within the normal range.

Given this discrepancy, it’s no surprise that people with obesity do not share the same risk for developing cardiometabolic disease risk factors. Researchers have been looking into this disconnect, and in one case they have clearly identified one difference that could be responsible…

Duration of obesity is key

A study has found an association between a greater obesity duration and worse values for all cardiometabolic disease factors. The connection was particularly strong for glycated hemoglobin, or HbA1c, a measure of blood sugar.

Those with less than five years of obesity had a 5 percent higher HbA1c compared to people with no years of obesity, while those with 20 to 30 years of obesity had a 20 percent higher HbA1c. The increased risk persisted even after adjusting for obesity severity over the course of the subject’s life.

While other measures of cardiometabolic disease risk — systolic and diastolic blood pressure and amount of high-density lipoprotein, or “good,” cholesterol — were associated with obesity duration, these measures were greatly reduced when adjusting for obesity severity.

According to the study authors, the findings suggest health policy recommendations aimed at preventing early obesity onset, and therefore reducing lifetime exposure, may help reduce the risk of diabetes.

Data for the new study came from three British birth cohort studies that collected information on BMI from age 10 to 40 as well as cardiometabolic disease risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol and glycated hemoglobin measurements in 20,746 participants. About half the participants were male, and 97.2 percent of them were white British. The study defined obesity as having a BMI greater than 30 kg per square meter.

Obviously, the best way to lower your odds of developing obesity-related type 2 diabetes is to lose weight. Most medical professionals recommend regular exercise and a diet rich in whole, unprocessed, plant-based foods for healthy weight loss. But if you’re struggling to drop those pounds even after adjusting your diet and exercise regimen, there are other steps you can take to help reduce your metabolic risk factors…

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Defending against diabetes, even when overweight

No smoking: Smoking 16 to 20 cigarettes a day has been shown to increase diabetes risk to more than three times that of nonsmokers. So, if you do smoke, quitting can help lower your risk of diabetes.

Go nuts: Adding nuts to your diet can help lower your risk of developing diabetes. In one study, women who ate more than five 1-ounce servings of nuts a week lowered their diabetes risk compared to women who consumed no nuts at all.

Have a drink or two (but no more): Moderate alcohol consumption — up to a drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men — could be connected with reduced diabetes risk. Evidence shows that moderate amounts of alcohol increase the efficiency of insulin at getting glucose inside cells. So, keep enjoying that glass of wine with dinner if that’s your preference.

Check your vitamin D levels: Making sure you get enough vitamin D is important for blood sugar levels. In one study, people with the highest vitamin D levels in their blood were 43 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with the lowest blood levels.

It’s pretty easy to maintain healthy vitamin D levels in the warmer months when you’re getting plenty of sun exposure. But it may be a good idea to add a vitamin D supplement in the winter when the days are colder, shorter and darker.

Drink plenty of water (and coffee and tea): Keeping hydrated is always good for health but drinking lots of water also has the benefit of helping you avoid the types of sugary beverages that can make your blood sugar spike. In addition, some studies show boosting water consumption may lead to better blood sugar control and insulin response.

If you do want to add another beverage to the mix, make it coffee or tea. There have been several studies that indicate drinking caffeinated coffee and tea can significantly reduce diabetes risk, likely due to the polyphenols both beverages contain. And green tea contains a type of antioxidant that has been shown to lower blood sugar release from the liver and heighten insulin sensitivity.

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More years of obesity means higher risk of disease, study finds — EurekAlert

Duration of obesity exposure between ages 10 and 40 years and its relationship with cardiometabolic disease risk factors: A cohort study — PLOS Medicine

‘Obese’ May Not Always Equal Unhealthy: Study — WebMD

How to Prevent Diabetes Naturally — MedicineNet

Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes — Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

13 Ways to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes — Healthline

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.