Understanding Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity

insulin from food
If your body stops responding correctly to insulin, type 2 diabetes may develop. Image: © A.D.A.M.

Type 2 diabetes and obesity are connected -- so much so that more than 85% of the people diagnosed with it are overweight.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It is a chronic disease in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal. Long-term complications of type 2 diabetes can include nerve damage, amputation, eye disease, and high blood pressure.

The risk of coronary heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and blindness are greatly increased in those with type 2 diabetes.

What Happens in Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes begins when the body does not respond correctly to insulin, a hormone released by the pancreas. When you eat, the body breaks down sugar and starches into glucose (the basic fuel for the cells in the body). Beta cells release insulin to carry the glucose to cells to be used as energy; if the glucose does not go into the cells, it will stay in the bloodstream. When glucose builds up in the bloodstream, it causes two main problems. Immediately, your cells may become starved for energy. In time, high blood glucose levels may harm your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and/or heart.

If too much glucose stays in the bloodstream, the symptoms of diabetes can appear.

What is the Connection Between Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes?

More than 85% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight.

Research is ongoing as to why the overweight are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. A prevalent theory is that being overweight causes cellular changes that make the cells resistant to insulin, a condition referred to as insulin resistance.

In someone with insulin resistance, fat, liver and muscle cells do not respond normally to insulin.

The pancreas produces more and more insulin and, as a result, too much glucose remains in the blood instead of being taken into the cells. When someone has more fat cells than muscle cells, the insulin also becomes less effective. The cells that produce insulin must work harder than normal to keep blood sugar levels regulated, which can cause the cells to gradually fail.

What Are Other Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes?

Being overweight is not the only risk for type 2 diabetes. Other risk factors include:

  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Being age 45 or over
  • Having HDL cholesterol of less than 35 mg/dL or triglyceride level of greater than 250 mg/dL
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Being previously identified as having impaired glucose tolerance by your doctor
  • Being of African American, Hispanic American or Native American descent

What are the Complications of Type 2 Diabetes?

In addition to adversely affecting your overall health and well-being, type 2 diabetes can significantly increase your chances of developing some very serious health problems. Long-term complications of type 2 diabetes can include:

  • Circulation problems

What are the Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes?

Noticeable symptoms of type 2 diabetes can include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased frequency and volume of urination
  • Unquenchable thirst
  • Dehydration
  • Slow healing from cuts or sores
  • Numbness or tingling in extremities

Some people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms at all.

It is important that you talk to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis. A relatively simple test called a glucose tolerance test can help your doctor assess your risk of insulin resistance, prediabetes, and diabetes.

How does Losing Weight Help?

You may be able to lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by losing weight and increasing physical activity.

If you already have type 2 diabetes, losing weight and being more active help control your blood sugar levels and may also delay or even prevent complications. Losing weight and exercising, along with a healthy diet, may also allow you to reduce or even eliminate your need for diabetes medication. (Be sure to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your medication dosage or schedule.)

Even a small weight change can make a big difference to your overall health and your diabetes risk. The National Institutes of Health Diabetes Prevention Program found that losing just 5 to 7% of your body weight and doing moderate-intensity exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, may delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

To learn more about type 2 diabetes visit:


American Diabetes Association. Type 2 Diabetes: Conditions, Treatments, Resources - American Diabetes Association. Retrieved 13 Nov 2008.

Weight-control Information Network. WIN - Publication - Do You Know The Health Risks Of Being Overweight?. Nov 2004. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Retrieved 11 Nov 2008.

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