Waist size matters when it comes to developing type 2 diabetes, scientists have found

by Sarita Sheth on July 26, 2012

Waist circumference is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes, study shows

On of the most comprehensive international scientific studies ever undertaken on how lifestyle affects the risk of developing diabetes has found that overweight people with a large waist are just as likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life as those who are obese.

The study, led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit, followed more than 340,000 people from eight European countries to examine their future risk of type 2 diabetes.

The results show that waist circumference is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes, even after accounting for body mass index (BMI). This association was particularly pronounced in women.

Overweight men and women with a large waist of over 102 cm for men and over 88 cm for women were found to have a similar risk of developing diabetes as those who are clinically obese with a BMI over 30.

‘Type 2 diabetes is a serious and increasingly common disease. Overweight people are at increased risk of diabetes but they are not systematically monitored for this risk. Our findings suggest that if their waist circumference is large, they are just as likely to develop the condition as if they were obese,’ said Dr Claudia Langenberg from the MRC Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, who led the study.

‘We do not suggest replacing BMI as a core health indicator, but our results show that measuring waist size in overweight patients allows doctors to zoom in on this large population group and identify those at highest risk of diabetes. These people can then be offered lifestyle advice, which can reduce their risk of developing the disease,’ she explained.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the body fails to produce enough of the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar levels, or when the body’s cells do not react properly to insulin. While the exact causes of type 2 diabetes are not fully understood, being overweight or obese are the most important modifiable risk factors.

To investigate the association between BMI, waist circumference and type 2 diabetes risk separately in men and women, the researchers looked at data from the European Union funded InterAct Study, in which 12,403 cases of type 2 diabetes developed over the 15 years of follow up.

The researchers found that 7% of men and 4.4% of women who were overweight and had a large waist went on to develop diabetes within 10 years. This risk was equivalent to, or in some cases higher than, obese participants.

In contrast, risk was much lower in normal weight participants who had a small waist, with only 1.2% of men and 0.6% of women in this group developing diabetes over the same time period. Those who were overweight but had a small waist, the so called pear shapes, were also at relatively low risk from the disease.

Obese women with a BMI greater than 35 kg/m2 with a large waist were almost 32 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than lean women with a BMI of 18.5–22.4 kg/m2 with a small waist, while men in the equivalent group were 22 times more likely to get the condition than those with a low BMI and small waist.

Half the men and a third of the women in the cohort were overweight, and another 16.4 per cent of men and 15.8 per cent of women were obese, highlighting the epidemic of overweight and obesity and future burden of diabetes in Europe.

Professor Nick Wareham, director of the MRC Epidemiology Unit and Principal Investigator of the InterAct Study, said that it was one of the most comprehensive studies of lifestyle and diabetes risk to date.

‘The results of this important research will help inform new strategies for the prevention of this devastating condition,’ he added.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kadambi Seshasayee August 9, 2012 at 1:50 am

I am not sure the 101 cm limit should apply to all. For instance, I am 154 cm tall (5' 1"). I have a 35.5 waist. And diabetic. perhaps my ideal waist to avoid diabetes should be perhaps 33' ? My BMI is 26.

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