Even Modest Weight Loss Can Prevent Progression to Diabetes

by Dr Sam Girgis on August 6, 2012

Diabetes mellitus is a common medical problem in the United States and throughout the world.  As we have previously discussed, the worldwide diabetes rate has more than doubled over the past 30 years.  With the growing obesity epidemic, the rate of diabetes will continue to grow.  Weight gain and obesity contributes to the development of diabetes by causing insulin resistance.  In other words, being overweight and obese causes hormonal changes that make insulin less effective in controlling blood sugar levels.  In the same way, weight loss helps control blood sugar levels by decreasing insulin resistance and increasing insulin sensitivity.  In fact, patients that undergo gastric bypass and lose a significant amount of weight can decrease their diabetes medications and often completely stop them altogether.

Speaking at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention, Dr. Rena Wing has provided additional evidence that modest weight loss can prevent the progression from glucose intolerance to diabetes mellitus.  Dr. Wing discussed her work from the Diabetes Prevention Program, which is a national study on controlling blood sugar levels through behavioral modification.  In the study, 3,000 overweight individuals with glucose intolerance (a precursor to diabetes) were educated about behavioral changes that could help them lose weight.  In the study, it was shown that even a modest weight loss of 14 pounds could reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent.  In addition, the study showed the health benefits of the weight loss lasted over a decade even if the weight was regained.

Dr. Rena Wing was quoted as saying “Helping people find ways to change their eating and activity behaviors and developing interventions other than medication to reinforce a healthy lifestyle have made a huge difference in preventing one of the major health problems in this country”.  In addition, she was quoted as saying, “Weight losses of just 10 percent of a person’s body weight (or about 20 pounds in those who weigh 200 pounds) have also been shown to have a long-term impact on sleep apnea, hypertension and quality of life, and to slow the decline in mobility that occurs as people age”.

These results are preliminary and have not yet been published in a peer reviewed journal.  Despite this, the results give us added hope that diabetes can be prevented with weight loss and behavioral modification in our eating habits.  Weight loss has many beneficial effects on our metabolism and overall health.  As this preliminary study shows, the prevention of diabetes can be added to the growing list of health benefits provided by modest weight loss.  Future studies should focus on the impact of weight loss through behavioral modification on other cardio-metabolic disorders such as high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.



Rena Wing, American Psychological Association Annual Convention, Opening Session, Thursday, August 2, 2012

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