Obesity and Diabetes

When was the last time you ran 20km, chasing a woolly mammoth across the plains? Or the last time you travelled many miles to gather fruits and vegetables for the clan? Or even the last time you moved camp for summer – 1,000km from your original place of residence?

There is no doubt times have changed and it’s often hard to believe we were once a world of incredibly active humans – spending hours hunting for our next meal of red meat and covering distances to find enough greens to eat.

Most of our day, in fact, was spent finding, preparing and eating food. Fast forward a few thousand years and we’re are lucky to get 30 minutes of exercise a day, while the other eight hours are typically spent in an office behind a computer.

This inactivity has resulted in an increase in people living in an unhealthy weight range and because of this, statistics show that we are facing the biggest health crisis in the developed world. While it might sound insurmountable, there are simple lifestyle changes that each and every person can make that will, collectively, result in a big reduction in overweight and obesity rates.

Prevalence of obesity in Australia

A health report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows the prevalence of people living in an unhealthy weight range in Australia was expected to reach 60 percent by 2014, and 64 per cent by 2019. This places Australia third amongst OECD countries, behind American and England.

Similarly, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures from 2011-2012 revealed 63 per cent of Australians were already overweight and 28 per cent were obese, making the country one of the most overweight nations in the world. And it’s not just adults being affected – one in four children are now considered to be in the unhealthy weight range and that figure has been steadily increasing over the past 30 years.

Obesity and diabetes: what is the link?

Obesity is linked to a number of serious health risks including cancer, heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes.

The single best predictor of Type 2 diabetes is being overweight or obese with other risk factors including lack of physical activity, having high blood pressure, having polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), smoking and non-modifiable factors such as genetics.3  Furthermore, the term ‘Diabesity’ has been coined by experts given the interdependence of diabetes and obesity.

In fact, being even slightly overweight can increase your diabetes risk five times, and being seriously overweight, or obese, increased it 60 times.

As the level of weight increases, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has shown the risk of developing conditions such as Type 2 diabetes also rises. To add to that, being overweight can make exercising even harder because of the extra amount of weight you are carrying, which in turn makes controlling or managing Type 2 diabetes even more difficult.

Type 2 diabetes tends to creep up on people, taking years to develop into the full condition. Dietitian and exercise physiologist Kate Save says that weight gain around the abdominal area (waist) is the most detrimental as this increases the likelihood of becoming insulin resistant, which is a major risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes.

It begins when muscle and other cells stop responding to the signals from hormone insulin. As a result, the body responds by increasing insulin production in an effort to help remove glucose from the bloodstream where excess can cause damage to certain areas of the body including the kidneys, eyes and nerves. 

Prevention and management of obesity

A study which looked at the association of weight gain and weight loss on subsequent diabetes risk in overweight adults found that weight gain was associated with substantially increased risk of diabetes among overweight adults, and even modest weight loss was associated with significantly reduced diabetes risk.

“If you can reduce body fat, whilst maintaining lean muscle mass, you can improve insulin sensitivity so that you can improve the rate at which the body takes sugar out of the bloodstream,” Kate said.

“This will in turn reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, or assist in the management of the condition.”

If you’re just starting out on your journey to better health, start with simple changes in these three areas:

  • Adopt a healthy, well-balanced diet

  • Seek to incorporate more movement into your daily routine

    Increasing your incidental exercise is a good start. But it’s also important to build in structured workouts, too! Try our suggested lunchtime workouts.

  • Stop smoking

    Research shows people with diabetes who smoke have higher blood sugar levels, making their condition harder to control than those without diabetes. Smoking also reduces lung function, making it more difficult to exercise.


Kate Save is an accredited Dietitian and Exercise Physiologist with more than 10 years’ experience helping patients manage their diabetes.

She has been engaged by Sanofi to provide regular expert commentary for Diabetes-Care. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the view of Sanofi. 

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When was the last time you ran 20km, chasing a woolly mammoth across the plains? Or the last time you travelled many miles to gather fruits and vegetables fo...
Woman working out Australian Diabetes statistics
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