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Obesity and Specific Foods Linked With Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is one of the leading cause of death and illness in the US. Type 2 diabetes is often brought on by lifestyle choices such as poor diet, sedentary behavior, and obesity. These factors can increase insulin resistance which makes it difficult for glucose to move from the blood into cells. High blood glucose levels over long periods of time can lead to heart and kidney disease, nerve damage, and blindness. Making changes in one's lifestyle factors can help prevent the disease from starting and manage it once it has begun.

Two studies out of the University of South Carolina looked for specific elements of diet, fitness, and obesity that may increase diabetes risk. The studies, published in Diabetes Care, found that specific foods, low fitness levels, and high body measurements were linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

About the Study

The first study was a prospective cohort study that followed 14,006 men over five years. The men were without heart disease or diabetes at the start of the study. Fitness levels were assessed by a treadmill test. All the men also had a body mass index (BMI), waist measurement, and body fat percentage assessed. They were tracked for the development of type 2 diabetes or impaired fasting glucose (IFG–a precursor to diabetes). The study found the highest risk of diabetes and IFG were in:

  • Men in the lowest fitness levels (compared to men in the highest fitness levels)
  • Men with BMI 30 or higher
  • Men with body fat percentage of 25% or higher

The second study was part of the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study. It is a cohort study that assessed the food patterns of 880 middle-aged men. At the beginning of the study they did not have diabetes. After five years, 144 men had developed diabetes. Based on a 114-item food questionnaire given at the beginning and end of the study, the men were more likely to develop diabetes if they had a high intake of:

  • Red meat
  • Low-fiber bread and cereal
  • Dried beans
  • Fried potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Egg
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese

The risk was also higher in men that had a low intake of wine.

How Does This Affect You?    TOP

Cohort study design has some bias but is helpful when looking for associations. This can affect the validity of the results. However, both of these studies are supported by several other studies that indicate diet and activity choices play a significant role in the development of diabetes. Specific physical measurement of waist circumference, BMI, and body percentage also can determine if someone is at risk for diabetes.

Talk to your doctor about your risk factors. Work with your doctor, a dietitian, or a fitness specialist to help you adopt healthier lifestyle options.


American Diabetes Association
American Dietetic Association


Lee DC, Sui X, Church TS, Lee IM, Blair SN. Associations of cardiorespiratory fitness and obesity with risks of impaired fasting glucose and type 2 diabetes in men. Diabetes Care . 2009 Feb;32(2):257-62. Epub 2008 Nov 4.
Liese AD, Weis KE, Schulz M, Tooze JA. Food intake patterns associated with incident type 2 diabetes: the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study. Diabetes Care . 2009 Feb;32(2):263-8. Epub 2008 Nov 25.
Last reviewed March 2009 by Larissa J. Lucas, MD

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