June 23rd, 2010
02:24 PM ET

Belly fat boosts diabetes risk for seniors

By Trisha Henry
CNN Medical Producer

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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soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Peter Thibodeau

    Belly fat does not boost diabetes, this is an allopathic mind set. Belly fat is the result of a toxic lifestyle. Pay attention to real science, many papers relate to the toxicity of inactivity and excess sugar/high glycemic diets. Belly fat is a sign of toxicity. Belly fat is adaptive physiology and it is intelligent adaptation. Our bodies are doing their best to survive despite our lifestyles. And allopathy treats the adaptive physiology. Allopathy is Ptolemaic. Yes there was science in Ptolemy's work but was he right? Yes there is science in allopathy but is it right? I'll let the readers answer this based in their belief systems.

    June 23, 2010 at 19:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ivan Sanchez

    I don't pay any attention to any of those studies, they're just not reliable!
    One day they say one thing, the next they contradict themselves. Example: One time eggs were bad for, and then they’re good for you. Milk is bad then it’s good! Watermelon is bad then….Lettuce is bad….
    I’m 70 years old and I eat what ever I dam well please and according to my doctor all my check ups are negative. Ask my doctor what I should avoid from getting sick, he says,’ don’t pay any attention to those pharmaceutical commercials, they’re like the drug cartel, all they care for is what is in your wallet. Ignore any University studies on nutritional studies, you’ll go nuts. Balance everything you eat and you’ll out live those idiots!
    I drink a coke every day, McDonalds twice a week, gallon of Ice Cream a month, go to the movies and a large bag of Popcorn competes it all! I sleep 8 hours. I stay away from loose women. When I’ve got something to say, I’ll say it regardless weather anyone likes it. I’m a church boy and if I have any problems I lean on the Lord and not on prescriptions, illegal drugs or booze! When someone mentions sex, I fall asleep!

    June 24, 2010 at 01:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. h nassor

    I am 44yrs old and weighing 97kgs at the moment, yes I have belly fat, i have tested several times for diebetis and told that the sugar level is ok, I have a friend who weighs around 50kgs, and he was recently hospitalised for diebetis, the guy has less appetite, skinny . hw come he developed such desease?

    June 24, 2010 at 02:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Colleen

    What Senior doesn't have belly fat? Give me a break!!

    June 24, 2010 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. aj Deeds

    We've found a wonderful method for getting rid of belly fat using an all-natural dietary supplement and a low calorie diet. We wanted to stay away from hormones and stimulants that carried other risks. I was able to move from 186 lbs at age 50 to 162lbs in less than 8 weeks. Thanks for getting the important message out about paying attention to one's weight balance to avoid diabetes.

    Ann Arbor, MI

    June 24, 2010 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Zach

    To Ivan-

    There will always be exceptions to the rule. Just because you haven't developed diabetes or developed other conditions, even with your diet, does not make the results of the study null and void. Also you said-

    "Ask my doctor what I should avoid from getting sick, he says,’ don’t pay any attention to those pharmaceutical commercials, they’re like the drug cartel, all they care for is what is in your wallet. Ignore any University studies on nutritional studies, you’ll go nuts."

    This study was not carried out for commercial purposes at all. The University of Washington was not trying to promote any product. They were simply trying to further study risk factors in developing diabetes. You said that the results of studies change frequently. As far as this subject goes, obesity will never be proven one day to have any positive effects on one's health. It is linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and yes....diabetes.

    As far as your lack of faith in scientific studies- all of those tests you received at the Doctor's office were proven effective through various studies. Yes, there may be setbacks (conflicting results at times) , but these scientific investigations are needed to ensure better treatment and cures for a wide variety of conditions.

    June 24, 2010 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rose

      to Zach: You have a very rational way to look at all of this. Levity is fun to read, but articles to improve our health also need serious consideration!

      July 21, 2010 at 11:24 | Report abuse |
  7. Randy

    Thank you for putting this article together. Now that it's the New Year maybe some people will be inspired to get some of that extra weight off. It is so hard, but obviously so very important.


    January 17, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.