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The higher your waist size, the higher your risk of develop diabetes. This article outlines the connection between waist size and diabetes risk.

Diabetes is a disease in which patients have high blood sugar levels due to either:

  • An inability to make insulin (the hormone that metabolizes glucose), which is known as type 1 diabetes
  • Reduced sensitivity to insulin, rendering it useless, which is known as type 2 diabetes.

While there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes, there are several ways to either delay the onset of or prevent type 2 diabetes altogether. This is because type 2 diabetes is largely a result of lifestyle (modifiable) factors, although there are non-modifiable factors as well. The non-modifiable factors include:

  • Age. As people over the age of 45 are more likely to get type 2 diabetes.
  • Genetics. People with family members with type 2 diabetes are more likely to get the disease.

The modifiable factors include:

  • Sedentary lifestyle. People who don’t lead an active lifestyle and exercise are more likely to get type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to get type 2 diabetes. In fact, weight, specifically obesity, counts for 80 to 85 percent of cases of patients with type 2 diabetes.
Another related modifiable lifestyle factor is waist line. This is because studies have shown that people with larger waists are more likely to get type 2 diabetes. Therefore, measuring waist size has become an important tool when it comes to evaluating the risk of a patient developing type 2 diabetes.

Waistline and type 2 diabetes

Studies have shown that measuring the waistline is actually a more accurate way to determine risk of type 2 diabetes compared to looking at BMI. This is because BMIs can be erroneous due to the fact that people with more muscle mass tend to weigh more and thus, will have a higher BMI. However, people with a higher muscle mass are not at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Furthermore, patients whose fat distribution is around their waist tend to have a higher risk of diabetes compared to people that have a higher fat deposition around other parts of their body such as the hips. Therefore, if there are two people with the exact same weight and height, the one with the fat distribution around the waist is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to the person whose fat distribution is around their hips. Hence, waistline is often a better way to determine type 2 diabetes risk compared to other methods.

Ten percent of all our fat that is around our waist is actually around our organs. This type of fat, known as visceral fat, is extremely dangerous and raises the risk of many different conditions in addition to diabetes — including heart disease and cancer. It has been shown that high excess levels of fat around the abdomen, which is known as central or abdominal obesity, is the type of obesity that carries the highest risk of towards developing health complications.

There are three main ways that can explain why fat around your waist increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes:

  • Inflammation. Studies have shown that fat cells that reside in the abdomen produce compounds that are pro-inflammatory. These compounds actually make your body less sensitive to the effects of insulin be interrupting the ability of cells to respond to insulin.
  • Disrupting the ability to metabolize fat. It is known that obesity triggers the way that the body metabolizes fat because fat tissue releases certain fat molecules in the blood. These fat molecules, in turn, affect cells that respond to insulin, which lead to reduced insulin sensitivity.
  • Prediabetes. Obesity is thought to cause pre-diabetes, which is a condition that occurs before type 2 diabetes develops. Having prediabetes significantly increases your risk of having type 2 diabetes.


Guidelines for measurement of waist are separated by whether or you are a man or a woman, and what ethnicity/race you are. These are the following guidelines you should follow if you want to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes:

  • If you are a black or white man, your waist should be 94 cm (37 inches) or less.
  • If you are an Asian man, your waist should be 90 cm (35 inches) or less.
  • If you are a white, black or Asian woman, your waist should be 80 cm (31.5 inches) or less.

You can measure your waistline by taking a tape measure and putting it around your belly at mid-point above your hips and below your ribs. This will usually be within an inch of your belly button.

Reducing your waistline

So how do you go about actually reducing your waistline? The classic way to reduce your waistline is also the way you lose weight: by eating healthy and exercising. Both of these methods can help you reduce the length of your waistline and importantly, reduce the levels of your visceral fat. Other ways to reduce your waistline include limiting your alcohol intake.

  • Branchtein, Leandro, et al. "Waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio are related to gestational glucose tolerance." Diabetes care 20.4 (1997): 509-511.
  • Cui, Rongtao, et al. "Evaluation of serum lipid profile, body mass index, and waistline in Chinese patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus." Clinical interventions in aging 11 (2016): 445.
  • Ta, M. T. T., et al. "Identification of undiagnosed type 2 diabetes by systolic blood pressure and waist-to-hip ratio." Diabetologia 53.10 (2010): 2139-2146.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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