Waist Size May Predict Diabetes Risk -- Even If You’re Not Obese

By Amir Khan on June 8, 2012 1:42 PM EDT

Obese person
People with large waists, regardless of their overall weight, are at a higher risk for diabetes, according to a new study (Photo: Flickr.com/kennethkonica)

People with large waists, regardless of their overall weight, are at a higher risk for diabetes, according to a new study, published Tuesday in the journal PLoS Medicine. Researchers found that the wider your waist, the higher your risk of type 2 diabetes -- even if you're not obese.

Doctors currently use body mass index, which is your weight (in kilograms) divided by height (in meters) squared in order to gauge how overweight a person is. However, BMI doesn't take into account different types of fat, and studies suggest that fat around the abdomen increases the risk of diabetes.

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"Our results now provide clear evidence that a simple measurement of waist circumference can identify overweight individuals with a large waist, whose risk of future diabetes is equivalent to that of obese people," Claudia Langenberg, study coauthor and researcher with the Institute of Metabolic Science and Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, England, told WebMD.

Type 2 diabetes high blood sugar levels when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin hormone, which regulates blood sugar levels. Traditionally, doctors treat Type 2 diabetes with medications and insulin injections. Risk factors for the condition include excess body weight, high cholesterol, low activity and poor diet, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers determined that a "normal" waist for a man is below 34.6 inches, a "moderately increased" waist is between 34.6 and 40 inches, and a "large" waist is greater than 40 inches. For women, 31.5 inches a "normal", 31.5 to 35 inches is "moderately increased" and greater than 35 inches is a "large" waist.

"Compared with men with normal WCs, those with "moderately increased" waists were 2.40 times more likely to develop diabetes and those with "large" waists were 7.58 times more likely to meet the same fate," the Los Angeles Times reports. "For women, the corresponding risk figures were 3.02 for those with "moderately increased" waists and 11.6 for those with "large" waists."

Between 1980 and 2010, the prevalence of diabetes increased 176 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in 12 Americans, 25 million in total, has diabetes according to the CDC. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to kidney failure, blindness, heart disease and nerve damage. The disease was the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and cost $174 billion in medical costs, disability and loss of work in 2007, the last year with available data.

Dr. James T. Lane,  with the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center at the University of Oklahoma, told WebMD that waist circumference can be used a reliable indicator of diabetes risk, and that it underscores the risk of excess belly fat.

"This further confirms that it is important to avoid carrying extra fat, particularly so around the abdominal region," he said.

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