June 23rd, 2010
02:24 PM ET
By Trisha Henry
It's a demonstrated fact that belly fat increases type 2 diabetes risk, and a new study confirms that's true for seniors too.
Gaining weight in your 50s and after age 65 can double your risk of diabetes later in life, according to a new University of Washington study. Being obese and having excess body fat around the waist also contributes to the risk of getting diabetes.
More than 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The new study confirms the importance of weight control in mid-life, and it suggests that "weight control remains important as we age," says lead study author, Mary Lou Biggs. "Prior to the study it was well established that adiposity [fat] was a strong risk factor in young and middle-age adults, but there was limited information on older adults," says Biggs.
Seniors are the fastest growing segment of our population and in the United States, and 12.2 million people or 23.1 percent of the people age 60 or older have diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health. As we age we tend to experience loss of muscle mass, height, says Biggs, which is why she wanted to find out whether the risk factors for determining diabetes in older adults would be the same as younger adults.
The study looked at more than 4,000 participants and found 339 new cases of type 2 diabetes over an average of 12 years between 1989 and 2007. Researchers examined height, body weight, waist and hip circumference, body mass index (BMI), and body fat composition.
To have a baseline, participants were asked to self-report their weight at age 50. Researchers used that information to look at how BMI in midlife affects the risk of diabetes in later life, says Biggs.
The study in the current issue of the Journal of American Medical Association found those who were obese in midlife were more likely to develop diabetes later in life. Researchers also found that if people gained a substantial amount of weight between age 50 and older and after 65, they were more likely to develop diabetes. So it's really a combination says Biggs: Higher body fat and gaining weight are pretty strongly related to diabetes in older age.
The study also suggest that losing weight when you're over 65 doesn't reduce the risk of diabetes, as studies in younger people have shown.
However, preventing weight gain as you age may contribute to diabetes prevention. Consistent exercise can help reduce abdominal fat, even when your scale doesn't register a loss. To maintain weight but reduce belly fat, activities such as strength training can help reduce the waistline.
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