Type 2 diabetes has reached staggering proportions worldwide. According to the CDC, it affects about 30 million people in the US alone — and numbers in the UK and Europe are also high and on the rise.

For decades, experts in the fields of medicine, research, and public health have debated which factor is the strongest predictor of type 2 diabetes. Is it having certain genes? Being overweight or obese? Not getting enough exercise? Eating an unhealthy diet?

Now, a new study suggests that obesity may very well be the most important risk factor for type 2 diabetes:

Diabetologia: Obesity, unfavourable lifestyle and genetic risk of type 2 diabetes: a case-cohort study

As part of a larger study, a Danish research team followed 4,700 people who developed type 2 diabetes during a period of roughly 15 years. They assessed the extent to which participants’ genetic predisposition, lifestyle behaviors, and weight status increased their risk of type 2 diabetes.

The researchers’ findings? People with obesity were nearly six times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people of normal weight, regardless of their genes or whether they had “favorable lifestyle behaviors” — not smoking, getting regular activity, avoiding excessive alcohol, and eating a healthy diet.

Importantly, participants who were obese (defined as a BMI of 30 or higher) with low genetic risk and a favorable lifestyle were more than eight times as likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to those of normal weight with similar genes and lifestyle.

Even more alarming, those with obesity, a high genetic risk score, and an unfavorable lifestyle were found to have a whopping 14-fold increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Being overweight, on the other hand, was linked to only slightly greater diabetes risk than being of normal weight.

Because this is an observational study, it can’t prove obesity causes type 2 diabetes. And certainly, many people who aren’t obese also develop this disease. However, the associations here are so strong that the connection between obesity and type 2 diabetes is hard to deny.

Although these results are concerning, at Diet Doctor, we believe a low-carb diet could hold the key for millions of people with obesity who want to reduce their diabetes risk and improve their overall health.

It’s a way of eating that’s often very effective for weight loss and reversing type 2 diabetes. Additionally, it can reduce other metabolic risk factors by lowering insulin, liver fat, and triglyceride levels. Finally, a low-carb lifestyle is based on nutritious, satisfying foods that can help people lose weight without going hungry.

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