Maintaining healthy weight between early adulthood and middle age could help avoid diabetes

New Study Suggests Nearly Two-Thirds of Diabetes Cases Could be Avoided if U.S. Adults Were to Maintain a Healthy Weight Between their mid-20s and 40s

Young adults suffering from obesity who lose enough weight to no longer be considered obese before early middle age reduce their risk of developing diabetes by nearly 70 percent compared to those who remain obese over the same life interval, according to a new study in the journal Diabetes Care. The research was supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health and Ethicon, part of the Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies.

Based on their findings, researchers estimate that if all adults who were obese at age 25 were no longer so by the time they reached their forties or fifties, there would be 9.1 percent fewer cases of diabetes in the U.S over a 10-year period. Additionally, they say, if the total U.S. population did not have obesity during this stage of life, nearly two-thirds (64.2%) of new diabetes cases could be avoided.

“Younger Americans are at a high risk for developing diabetes later in life if they’re unable to prevent or overcome obesity,” said lead study author Andrew Stokes, Ph.D, an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health. “The findings from this study underscore the importance of population-level approaches to the prevention and treatment of obesity and diabetes across the life course of individuals.”

The study data was drawn from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. Respondents ages 40 to 74 were asked to recall their weight at age 25 and at 10 years prior to taking the survey, along with reporting their current weight and height. Individuals were then categorized into one of four groups: those who never became obese (stable non-obese), those who went from obese to non-obese (losing), those who gained weight and became obese (gaining), and those whose obesity remained stable (stable obese).

The group at highest risk for diabetes were people who were obese throughout young adulthood and midlife, according to the study. Compared to this group, individuals who never had obesity reduced their risks of developing diabetes by 78 percent. Those who were obese in young adulthood but were not by midlife had a 67 percent lower risk.

“This study demonstrates there is a window of opportunity between early adulthood and middle age to largely prevent one of the most serious consequences of obesity, and that’s diabetes,” said Robin Scamuffa, a study co-author and senior principal clinical scientist, Ethicon. “Obesity is a preventable cause of diabetes, and higher awareness of the long term risks of obesity is needed, particularly among younger people.”

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