ADA: Not all fat people get diabetes

From the American Diabetes Association:

In a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Diabetes Association, 2,081 Americans were asked questions to test their diabetes knowledge.  The results showed that several diabetes myths and misconceptions are common and diabetes remains a misunderstood disease.

[…]

Myth: If you are overweight or obese, you will eventually develop type 2 diabetes.

According the survey, approximately three in five respondents (59%) did not know that this is a false statement.  In addition, more than half (53%) of respondents did not know that risk for developing type 2 diabetes increases with age.

Fact: Being overweight is a risk factor for developing this disease, but other risk factors such as family history, ethnicity and age also play a role. Unfortunately, too many people disregard the other risk factors for diabetes and think that weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes.  Most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes, and many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.

Yes, I’ve posted this before, but it bears repeating: Not all fat people get diabetes.  Thin people should still get blood sugar checks every so many years  — especially if they have a family history of the disease.   It’s not contagious, either.

26 thoughts on “ADA: Not all fat people get diabetes

  1. “many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.”

    Curious as the the definition of the word “many” here. I would love to know the real number so that I can add that to my arsenal of Myth! Busting! Facts! when confronted with the concern trolls’ fearmongering (they know who they are!). It just seems disingenuous to not include real numbers to support this argument unless they just found it impossible to overcome the obesity hype spoonfed to us all….which is my hunch. To use the word “many” leaves a lot open to interpretation…and perpetuates the mythology they are trying to dispel….that age is a significant factor in Type II diabetes stats.

    Interesting aside….I took the risk test they provided on that site and entered all my information in various ways (fudged my weight) and came up with differing results. Mainly I am at low risk if I use bmi standard weight and increased risk with my true weight. It was interesting that the risk was for PRE diabetes. That just seems a lot like pre-cancer or pre-heart attack to me (YOU’RE GONNA DIE SOMEDAY!!!).

  2. Uh…that last sentence in the first paragraph should read “mythology they are trying to dispel…that age is a MORE significant factor in Type II diabetes than weight”.

    At least..that’s how I viewed it.

  3. Both type II and hypoglycemia run in my family. I have occasional bouts of hypoglycemia, but lately my sugar’s been in the low 100’s. So even if I weren’t deathfat, there would be a very strong chance I could develop type II as I get older. My mother recently found out she is hypoglycemic—after a weight loss of 60 lbs. So weight is not always a true factor in getting this disease.

    • I’ve had diabetes educators flatly tell me it’s genetic. They hem and haw about how sometimes 1 twin will be able to put it off through exercise and so on, but at the end of the day your body is insulin resistant.

  4. It is genetic.

    The twist is that what’s genetic is the tendency to develop insulin resistance, and insulin resistance is a progressive condition. The line between “diabetic” and “non-diabetic” is completely arbitrary – it is currently set at 126mg/dl, used to be 140 mg/dl, and there’s been talk about lowering it again to 110 mg/dl. So the genetics may make you insulin-resistant but this doesn’t necessarily mean the condition will progress to the point where a doctor will call it “diabetes” and slap the scarlet letter on you. (Conversely, you will be “nondiabetic” one day and “diabetic” the next, whenever they lower the threshold for diabetes.)

    This also means that the statistics for inheritance are often unsound, because they only take into account diagnosed type 2 diabetes, not insulin resistance. If a parent has a blood glucose reading of 120mg/dl, you are at genetic risk for developing the condition even though the parent is not diagnosable with diabetes, but population studies that rely on diagnosed diabetes won’t pick this up. Hence they tend to underestimate the genetic component of the disease.

  5. That is what I have read & what I believe most of the scientific sources I have checked quoted, that at least 75% of fat people are not diabetic, most never will be, & also that Type II is even more genetic & heritable than Type 1 & thereby not anyone’s ‘fault’. When someone years ago was blabbing blithing on on the Fat!So? Gabcafe BBS about ‘virtually all fat people being insulin sensitive’, Sandy stepped in & pointed out that, actually, about 87% of fat people are not diabetic.

    There is no disease which ONLY happens to fat people & fat does not CAUSE disease & in fact is, in many cases & moreso as we age, protective. I want to put this on huge posters everywhere & point everyone I see to it.

  6. It’s so funny how people are oblivious to the true reasons for illness. It’s great that you point it out. Hopefully, it will make people gain awareness that ignorance is probably our greatest fault.

  7. I have to admit, even with all of that obesity hysteria out there, I’m shocked that almost 60% of respondents think that all fat people eventually get diabetes, and that age plays no role. I mean, I would think that simple personal experience–certainly most of the respondents MUST know numerous fat people without diabetes, and have fat relatives who went their entire lives without developing it–would make people realize that was false.

    • Perception distortion is some of the reason, I think. It’s common for people to think the fat people they know “aren’t really fat” because they’re not Headless Fatties. And people do tend to assume, when they know very fat people casually, that they must have diabetes even if they’re not familiar with the person’s health status. Finally, if you tell them you don’t have diabetes, they’re likely to assume you’ll have it soon.

      It’s hard to challenge this because the mindset contains its own defense: if you tell them you don’t have diabetes and aren’t high-risk, you’re “in denial” because you “want to overeat”, or something. The fact that doctors routinely do this as well – assume all fat patients have diabetes, and no thin patients are at risk – shows you just how deeply it’s embedded. Doctors ought to know better – for that matter, doctors ought to know better than to blame the patient for an endocrine disease that’s caused genetically, and also ought to know better than to treat the symptom (gradual weight gain) as the cause of insulin resistance. But they don’t, by and large.

      • ” Doctors ought to know better – for that matter, doctors ought to know better than to blame the patient for an endocrine disease that’s caused genetically, and also ought to know better than to treat the symptom (gradual weight gain) as the cause of insulin resistance. But they don’t, by and large.”

        This is the part that confounds me the most. Doctors are not doing anything to dispel the myth. I would think they would be the first ones to say that being obese does not guarantee diabetes because it leads people to push for testing in the same way they push for drugs they see on commercials. Wouldn’t they prefer to treat people with real medical problems than participate in performing unnecessary tests? Instead, their eyes seem to glaze over and they just give in to the demands of the patient. Why aren’t more of them speaking to the media about this fallacy? Unless they believe that jumping on the diabetes bandwagon will open the door for them to get us all to lose weight…cuz they don’t like touching da fatties.*

        *conspiracy theory*

  8. I wish I could make my mom understand this so she’d stop using Splenda instead of sugar for fear of catching the diabetes.

    I’m sure that asshole doctor of hers probably got her terrified about it (because she’s fat, and all fatties get the diabetes, you know), and then my aunt (not a blood relation of hers) getting it probably sealed the deal.

    Maybe I’ll just send her that link and beg her to read it.

  9. Thank you so much for these posts! I am 19 years old 5’3″ and weigh 245 lbs and every time I would go to the planned parenthood clinic (to be responsible and get birth control) the nurses there would always harass me about my weight. Telling me that I probably already have diabetes or else will get it really soon… So when I went to have my blood checked, I was deathly afraid about what all these people say and what the media says about fat people getting diabetes 100% guaranteed… well of course, my blood sugar and cholesterol are completely normal! Thank you very much… I eat generally well and walk a lot, but i’m still fat, ever since my teens. I’ve learned to accept my body :)

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  11. I have diabetes, I am 45 yrs old. It is in my family and I knew I was at risk for it, however, I know many heavier people than myself that DO NOT have diabetes and probaly NEVER get it. I am so sick and tired of being told it is all my fault, even after I lost 60 lbs.

  12. What about me? I am doomed to get type II? My mom has had it for about 10 years, my dad was diagnosed just a few months ago. I am 43 and weigh 400 at 5’11”. So far, my blood sugars have tested normal, although I had my obgyn tell me I had insulin resistance because my insulin was 97. I am terrified. I can’t walk for exercise due to a split tendon, losing weight has always been hard. I don’t diet, but I don’t try to lose weight either, and I’m scared.

    • Was it a fasting glucose tolerance test? If it was, then anything above 100 is considered insulin resistance.

      But, if it wasn’t a fasting test, then 97 is a normal result. The result of my oral glucose tolerance test this pregnancy was 90, and my OB told me that was great. For the OGTT, anything below 140 is normal.

      Honestly, if you were smaller, I bet your doctor would have seen your result of 97 and had you do a retest, to see if it was just a matter of what you ate the night before, rather than immediately telling you you had insulin resistance. It definitely doesn’t sound like anything you need to be terrified about. Maybe ask about getting a retest, since your results were right on the diagnostic border?

  13. Sunnysmile, I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think you’re 100% doomed to develop type 2 diabetes. Your risk seems very high as you have two parents with it and you have insulin resistance, though. I can understand how worrisome it would be! Especially with the anti-fat stigma many doctors direct at us fat people. But we have better treatments for diabetes now, and if any doctor tells you that “lose weight” and “exercise” are the the only options, they are sorely misinformed! It’s nobody’s fault if you develop diabetes, it’s a genetic disease.

    You might consider asking your ob-gyn for medication to help your insulin resistance, such as metformin, I’ve got several friends with PCOS and insulin resistance who take it and it has helped them quite a bit. (Watch out for side effects like any medication of course.) The sooner insulin resistance is treated, the longer it may be until you develop diabetes if you are going to develop it.

    If you do want to exercise there are non-weight-bearing exercises that can be done. Kelly Bliss (kellybliss.com) has developed exercise programs for people who are disabled or injured, exercises that can be done in bed or in a chair. I don’t know how your health insurance is but if you can see a physical therapist they are usually very good about showing you exercise you can do to work around your injury.

    There is a great HAES-oriented article from Radiance magazine discussing diabetes here: http://www.radiancemagazine.com/issues/1995/diabetes.html

    Good luck and I hope you can find some reassurance!

  14. The line between “diabetic” and “non-diabetic” is completely arbitrary – it is currently set at 126mg/dl, used to be 140 mg/dl, and there’s been talk about lowering it again to 110 mg/dl.

    In a wide range of diagnostic tests for various illnesses like diatbetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. these numbers are continuously being lowered. The net result is that doctors are putting patients on medication earlier and earlier. Should it be any surprise that the pharmaceutical companies, who have everything to gain from this, are a major factor in setting the numbers or “the line between diabetic & non-diabetic”?

    In a freakish example of this ridiculous process, my wife had a total cholesterol result of 205. But her LDL was 105 and her HDL (the good stuff.) 100. Yet the physician started talking about putting her on medication. As my wife’s undergrad degree is in pre-med & biology, she asked the doc if there was any drug that would lower the HDL and why would pharmaceutical companies ever design such a drug?

    HMMMM . . . the numbers are arbitrarily set by folks with a vested interest: $$$$$

  15. Thank you so much for posting this. I am pre-diabetic and have had elevated blood sugars for the past five years (and that’s just when my doctor started testing for it; it may have been elevated longer than that, who knows?) Anyway, I have read and gotten the idea time and again that if you’re fat and you have diabetes, it’s your fault. That can’t be further from the truth. Yes, it’s a risk factor but it’s by no means the only one!

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