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Gallup Survey: Obesity Quadruples Diabetes Risk for Most U.S. Adults

Peak years of elevated risk are between ages 35 and 39

Obese adults between the ages of 25 and 64 are at least four times more likely to have been diagnosed with diabetes than are those with a normal weight, according to a new Gallup survey. By their middle to late 30s, 9.3% of adults who are obese have been diagnosed with diabetes compared with 1.8% of those who are normal weight.

The results were based on nearly 500,000 interviews conducted in the U.S. from 2014 through 2016.

The Gallup–Healthways Well-Being Index uses respondents’ self-reported height and weight to calculate their body mass index (BMI) and subsequent weight classes. It does not involve clinical measurements, which typically result in higher obesity estimates. A BMI of 30 or greater earns a classification of “obese.” In addition, the Well-Being Index does not discern between type-1 and type-2 diabetes, but rather asks: “Has a doctor or nurse ever told you that you have diabetes?”

In 2016, 28% of all U.S. adults were classified as obese, and 12% reported a diagnosis of diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that approximately one in three Americans born in the year 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes during his or her lifetime, and that the percentage of Americans with the disease will at least double from current levels by 2050.

Not all individuals who are obese will develop diabetes, and some who are normal weight will get the disease, Gallup points out. Factors other than obesity status or age could increase the risk of developing diabetes, including physical inactivity, race, ethnicity, and genetic predisposition.

Still, the odds of having been diagnosed with diabetes are substantially higher among those who are obese than among those who are overweight or have a normal weight, and remain elevated between the ages of 25 and 64, according to Gallup. The peak years of elevated risk are between ages 35 and 39. At this stage in life, obese individuals are more than five times more likely than their normal-weight counterparts to have diabetes.

In 2016, women were only slightly more likely than men to report having been diagnosed with diabetes––11.7% vs. 11.4%, respectively. Women who are obese, however, are more likely than obese men to have diabetes across all age groups up to age 60, at which point both groups converge.

The increased diabetes risk is considerably higher for obese women than for obese men across most age groups, Gallup found. For example, obese women aged 50 to 54 are six times more likely than women with normal weights to have diabetes, while obese men of the same age are only approximately three times more likely than their normal-weight counterparts to have diabetes.

The results of the new analysis cannot establish a causal relationship between obesity and diabetes, as individuals are not asked to confirm the age at which they were diagnosed with diabetes and their height and weight at the time of the diagnosis, Gallup points out. Some who were obese when interviewed may have had a normal weight at an earlier age when they were diagnosed with diabetes, and some who had a normal weight (or were overweight) at the time of the interview may have been obese at the point of their diagnosis.

The results do, however, add to a body of research that demonstrates the unambiguous link between the two diseases: Those who are obese carry a significantly higher risk of developing diabetes.

Source: Gallup; April 6, 2017.

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