Physician Q&A: Diabesity
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Did you know type 2 diabetes can not only be prevented but possibly reversed? Camron Nelson, MD, Cooper Clinic President and CEO and Preventive Medicine Physician, explains the specifics surrounding diabesity, stemming from the widespread obesity phenomenon in the United States.
Q: What is diabesity?
A: Diabesity, more commonly known as type 2 diabetes, involves a string of metabolic disturbances including mild blood sugar elevations, insulin resistance or a full-blown diabetes diagnosis. Being overweight or obese causes these metabolic changes which in turn directly increase your risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, kidney disease and dementia.
As the term implies, this disorder has its origins in being overweight, placing challenges on one’s insulin production and regulatory system. This then causes inflammation, which can lead to a multitude of diseases. The process is usually gradual with most people being asymptomatic, unaware of the subtle degradation of their health.
Since 70% of Americans are overweight or obese, the vast majority of individuals are suffering the effects of diabesity.
Q: What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
A: Type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile diabetes) is usually associated with a genetic predisposition and is exacerbated by unhealthy lifestyle choices. It is a chronic autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks itself. The body specifically attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, eventually forcing these cells to stop insulin production. Without insulin our bodies cannot convert the sugar in our bloodstream into energy. Individuals with type 1 diabetes usually require insulin injections several times per day to control their blood sugar.
Type 2 diabetes, or diabesity, develops when the cells in the body become resistant to the insulin that is produced in the pancreas. The pancreas tries to produce more insulin to deal with the cell’s sluggish ability to utilize the insulin. This excessive insulin in the bloodstream dramatically increases inflammation, which in turn leads to disease and premature aging of the body’s organ systems.
The body's resistance to insulin is directly affected by being overweight or obese—hence the term diabesity. Even a small amount of excess body weight can initiate the process of insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes may require medication, but is largely treatable by achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and following a healthier diet, namely avoiding refined sugars and starchy carbohydrates.
In most cases, diabesity is caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices. However, certain ethnicities have proven to be at higher risk from a genetic standpoint including those with Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Middle Eastern, Indian and African American backgrounds.
Q: Can diabesity be reversed?
A: Yes, the vast majority of the risk associated with type 2 diabetes can be improved or prevented by a change in lifestyle choices. A healthy diet is key to keeping your body’s insulin system functioning properly. It is important to avoid “empty calories" through things such as sugared soft drinks, juices and excessive alcohol. Starchy carbohydrate intake including bread, pasta, rice and potatoes should be limited. Performing regular aerobic exercise for at least 150 minutes per week also helps to maintain a healthy body weight.
Q: Can diabesity be prevented?
A: Yes diabesity can be prevented, however, you must commit early in life to follow a healthy lifestyle of diet, exercise, stress management and sleep. While it is never too late to initiate these healthy habits, the subtle damage to organ systems after many years of insulin resistance may be able to be managed but not necessarily reversed.
Q: Can children be diagnosed with diabesity?
A: Yes, in fact, approximately one third of kids age 10-17 in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese. With this statistic comes the plethora of concerning health conditions previously mentioned. Subtle health issues may be present for two to three decades prior to an individual stepping foot into a doctor’s office with recognizable symptoms of heart disease, diabetes or even certain cancers.
Q: What steps can parents take to help prevent and reverse diabesity in their children?
A: Encourage your kids to participate in a purposeful activity or program each week to ensure they are getting adequate exercise. This can include playground activity, structured age-appropriate aerobic activity and organized sports. Allow easy access to healthy food in appropriate portion sizes and encourage moderation of sweets and soft drinks. I also recommend parents limit their children’s screen time in order to further encourage outdoor activities and play.
Knowing your numbers is vital to optimal health and prevention of disease. Many people have come to Cooper Clinic and discovered they had diabetes through our preventive exam. Our comprehensive preventive exam is a truly unique patient experience that provides you with an in-depth picture of your health—and, just as important, an action plan for improving it.
Each of the six components of the Cooper Clinic preventive exam is delivered with an unparalleled level of personal care and attention, using the latest medical technology. And, each plays a critical role in defining how you can live a longer, better quality life.
To learn more about Cooper Clinic preventive exams, click here or call 866.906.2667