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Nutrition Column

Parallel Epidemics: Obesity & type 2 diabetes

The prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes has risen to epidemic levels in the United States and worldwide. Both diseases go hand-in-hand and effect not only the adult population but children and young adults as well. Recently more attention and concerted efforts had been given to the treatment and prevention of these diseases in adolescents and young adults. The same non-pharmacological measures used with adults are as effective in children.

There is convincing evidence for a decreased risk of obesity and diabetes in individuals who are physically active and maintain a normal body mass index (BMI), and in overweight individuals with impaired glucose tolerance who lose weight voluntarily. An increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes is associated with a sedentary lifestyle, obesity and specifically abdominal obesity, maternal diabetes, and poor diet.

Besides increasing activity levels to promote weight loss and maintenance of a healthy body weight, some of the dietary factors involved with reduced risk and improved glucose control include a primarily whole-food, plant based diet. The WHO/FAO (World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization) recommendations include reducing total, saturated and Trans fat intake while increase the intake of low-glycemic index foods and non-starch polysaccharides achieved through whole grain cereals, legumes, vegetables and fruit. These same dietary recommendation improve overall health and reduce the risk of most degenerative diseases including: heart disease, hypertension, certain forms of cancer, and others.

Prevention and early treatment of both obesity and type 2 diabetes is critical to reduce adverse health, particularly in high risk groups. All adults should avoid weight gain of greater than 5 kg throughout adulthood, seek to improve diet by limiting processed foods, which are often high in sugars and fat, and increase activity to at least 1 hour every day for most days of the week. In fact, vigorous activity is required for prevention in high risk individuals.

Written by Eric Sternlicht, Ph.D. Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA.