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Canadian Med Center

What is the Link Between Obesity and Diabetes?

Tuesday 16 April 2024
7 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. What is Type 2 Diabetes?

II. The Connection Between Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity

III. Reducing Your Risk

i. Dietary Strategies

ii. Physical Activity

iii. Medications

IV. Conclusion

With the growing prevalence of type 2 diabetes and obesity, public health experts have characterized the two conditions as twin epidemics. [1] This label is well-deserved. Each disease poses serious health risks on its own. However, their interconnected relationship amplifies their risks.

In this article, we’ll discuss the relationship between type 2 diabetes and obesity and explore preventative measures and treatment options.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

When we eat carbohydrates, our bodies break them down into glucose to provide energy for our cells. Insulin is a hormone that acts like a key to let glucose move from the blood into the cells. This process allows cells access to the glucose they need for fuel. [2]

In people with type 2 diabetes, a couple of issues disrupt this process:

  • Insulin resistance: The cells become resistant to insulin's effects. Insulin can no longer easily unlock the cells to allow glucose to enter. As a result, glucose accumulates in the bloodstream instead of moving into the cells that need it.
  • Insufficient insulin production: To compensate for insulin resistance, the pancreas works harder to produce extra insulin. This helps overcome some of the resistance and regulate blood sugar. However, over time the pancreas becomes overtaxed. It can no longer keep up with producing enough insulin for the body's needs. [2]

The combination of insulin resistance and insufficient insulin production creates a persistent state of high blood sugar levels, which is the root of type 2 diabetes. [2]

The Connection Between Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity

patient connecting glucose monitor with smartphone

Obesity and diabetes have a close relationship. Statistics show that the higher a person's weight, the greater their risk for developing type 2 diabetes:

  • People with obesity are three to seven times more likely to have type 2 diabetes compared to those at a healthy weight.
  • People with severe obesity (BMI over 35) are 20 times more likely to have type 2 diabetes. [3]

Body fat distribution can also have an impact on insulin resistance:

  • People who carry excess weight around their middle or abdomen in an "apple" shape tend to have the highest insulin resistance and diabetes risk.
  • People with a "pear" shape and more weight around their hips and thighs are less likely to develop issues with insulin resistance. [3]

The exact reason why obesity leads to insulin resistance isn't fully understood yet. However, we know that excess weight and physical inactivity worsen insulin resistance. Moreover, people can improve or even reverse their type 2 diabetes through weight loss and increased activity. [3]

Reducing Your Risk

person using scale near measuring tape

Losing weight is essential for managing type 2 diabetes and reducing health risks. For overweight or obese individuals, shedding just five to ten percent of body weight can significantly:

  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Lower blood sugar levels
  • Decrease the need for some medications [4]

A comprehensive program of diet, exercise, and behavior change is the most effective approach for weight loss and diabetes management. While medication may be needed, lifestyle interventions should be the first line of treatment. [5]

Controlling weight and blood sugar levels can be frustrating, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Keeping blood sugar in a healthy range is key to avoiding long-term diabetes complications like heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease. Studies show that maintaining good blood sugar control can lower the risk of these complications by up to 40 percent. [5]

Dietary Strategies

Managing your blood sugar through diet is key to weight loss, especially if you have diabetes. By planning your meals and making educated choices about the types of foods you eat, you can gain better control of your blood sugar levels. Here are some helpful dietary tips:

  • Focus on complex carbohydrates: Foods like whole grains, beans, and vegetables are excellent sources of complex carbs. Unlike simple carbs, complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly, preventing spikes and crashes in blood sugar.
  • Plan your meals: Meal planning makes it easier to control portions and choose foods that meet your needs. Take time each weekend to map out meals and snacks for the week. Pre-portion items like nuts and cheese to have on hand when you need them.
  • Consider the glycemic index: The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly foods increase blood sugar. To avoid rapid spikes, choose lower-GI foods such as steel-cut oats, sweet potatoes, and most fruits. Be mindful of high-GI foods like white bread, rice, and potatoes.
  • Eat at the same times each day: This helps keep your blood sugar steady rather than experiencing highs and lows. Try setting a meal schedule and sticking to it as much as possible.
  • Choose unsaturated fats: Unsaturated fats, found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds, can improve cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. Limit saturated fats, found in red meat and full-fat dairy products, which can raise cholesterol and heart disease risk. [6]

Physical Activity

If you have type 2 diabetes, one of the most beneficial things you can do is lead an active lifestyle. Exercise is a powerful tool for controlling blood sugar and losing excess weight. [7]

Aerobic and resistance exercises are especially beneficial for managing diabetes.

  • Aerobic exercise involves continuous movement that raises your heart rate, such as walking or biking. Aim for 150 minutes per week, which can be split into shorter 10-minute sessions.
  • Strength or resistance training focuses on short, repetitive exercises using weights or body weight to build muscle. Incorporate strength training into your routine two to three times a week. [7]

Before ramping up your activity level, some preparation can help avoid complications:

  • If you've been inactive, consult your doctor before starting anything more intense than brisk walking.
  • Bring a fast-acting carbohydrate like glucose tabs in case you need to treat low blood sugar.
  • Check your blood sugar before, during, and after exercise to understand how it impacts your levels. [7]


If diet and exercise alone haven't been enough to help you lose weight, medication may be an option to discuss with your doctor. For some people struggling with obesity or excess weight, prescription drugs can be a helpful supplement to lifestyle changes.

To qualify for prescription weight loss medication, you typically need to meet certain criteria, such as:

  • A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.
  • A BMI of 27 or higher along with a weight-related health condition like type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure. [8]

Fortunately, more prescription weight loss drugs are available today than in the past. Some of the most common options include:

  • Injectable semaglutide (Wegovy) is a weekly injection that works by decreasing your appetite. It's meant to be used along with a balanced diet and exercise. [8]
  • Oral semaglutide (Rybelsus) is a daily tablet that reduces appetite and lowers blood sugar. Although not currently approved for weight loss, it may be prescribed off-label to aid weight management. [9]
  • Orlistat (Xenical) is an over-the-counter tablet taken three times a day that blocks the enzyme responsible for breaking down fats from food. This can lead to the excretion of up to 30% of dietary fats, resulting in weight loss of about 5% of body weight for some. [8]


When it comes to weight loss, no single perfect solution works for everyone. Some people can successfully shed pounds through lifestyle modifications like improving their diet and increasing physical activity. For others, medications may be necessary in conjunction with lifestyle changes to help manage blood sugar and promote weight loss.

The most important thing is finding an approach tailored to your needs. Educating yourself about the causes of obesity and the various treatment options available is the first step to determining the right weight loss plan for you. Our obesity blog contains a wealth of information to help you understand obesity risks.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.