The diabetes – blood glucose link is under the spotlight in a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. The study found that blood glucose health is worsening among obese Americans, even as the actual rate of obesity is leveling off for the first time in nearly three decades.
The paper, involving researchers from the University of Texas in Galveston and the University of Alabama in Birmingham, studied data culled from more than 18,000 obese adults between 1988 and 2014. Average blood pressure and cholesterol readings fell. However, the rate of diabetes rose significantly over the period of the study.
Type 2 diabetes and blood glucose health linked
While improved cholesterol and blood pressure levels typically work to lower the risk of heart disease, the study found other mechanisms at work in the role that blood sugar levels play in heart health.
Of the study’s participants, Health24 reports that only 2 percent had “ideal” heart health, and in 15 percent, blood glucose levels were under control along with cholesterol and blood pressure – a figure that remained stable over the 26-year period. In contrast, rates of diabetes jumped from 11 percent to 19 percent.
About 22 percent of the participants were diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels. The three factors, associated with a higher risk of heart disease, were more likely to be observed in subjects over 40-years of age. While the number of people with only one or two of the risk factors actually decreased, the number of test subjects with all three risk factors increased by 37 percent over the course of the study. Most significantly, blood glucose instability emerged as the red flag linked to the significant increase in the incidence of all three factors at once.
As reported in Medical News Today, about 35 percent of Americans – or roughly one in three – are currently considered obese. According to the American Diabetes Association, about 29.1 million Americans had diabetes in 2012. That figure translates into just under 10 percent of the population overall.
In contrast with Type 1 Diabetes, which typically first presents itself in children or young adults, and for which there is no known preventive treatment or cure, Type 2 diabetes is linked to lifestyle issues such as lack of exercise and poor eating habits. Obesity affects the body’s ability to process glucose or blood sugars and is a significant risk factor in developing Type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle changes, such as improving diet and activity levels, are known to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. It’s of particular importance because Type 2 diabetes is known to result in a much higher rate of heart disease.
Calls for public health action on glucose health and diabetes
The researchers called for an increased focus on obesity as a trigger for blood glucose issues in general as well as Type 2 diabetes. In particular, they believe that specific programs should be developed for those who present all three of the factors associated with a high risk of developing heart health problems. Dr. Fangjian Guo, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas in Galveston, was the study’s lead researcher. He is quoted in Health24.
“Obese adults with cardiovascular disease risk factors may need more intense approaches – healthy diet, increased physical activity – to control blood sugar and achieve weight loss.”
The study’s authors also emphasized the value of taking preventive measures against heart disease. Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, spoke to Health24.
“We have two choices: letting this population get sick and provide monies for treatment of complications and disability; or intervene early and prevent diabetes by encouraging weight loss, leading to a healthier and more productive life.”
Obese Americans are worse off now than they were in 1988 when it comes to heart health and the risk of Type 2 diabetes – controlling blood sugar levels — is seen as the key to reversing that trend.
[Image by Artfully Photographer/Shutterstock]