The Skinny On Diabetes Risk

Obesity is one risk factor for diabetes, but some thin people can also develop the disease

A 21-year-old football player ended up in the office of Chloe Paddison, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian and education specialist at St. Joseph’s/Candler, after suffering from excessive thirst.

Chloe Paddison

“He was fit, but drinking a gallon of sweet tea a day,” Paddison recalls. The culprit was type 1 diabetes, in which the body can’t make the insulin needed to keep a person’s blood sugar at a healthy level.

“Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disorder and is independent of weight,” Paddison says. “But recent studies have shown that 1 in 5 normal-weight adults can be at risk for prediabetes, which if not managed can develop into type 2 diabetes within five years.”

The popular perception of a person with diabetes is that they are overweight or obese, or that they were when the disease developed. Though obesity is a major risk factor for type 2, that fact doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Rather than take the perspective of the condition our body is in, I want patients to look at the conditions we subject our bodies to,” Paddison explains. “Genetics are one of the biggest players in weight, so someone with great weight-related genetics could be living a very unhealthy lifestyle.”

The lifestyle that puts thin people are risk for diabetes includes:

  • Little or no physical activity
  • Eating too many carbohydrates, especially from simple sources like sugary drinks
  • Not managing stress
  • Disrupted sleep patterns and grazing/snacking late into the night

“Your pancreas releases insulin to transport the glucose out of your blood stream, providing energy to your cells and regulating your blood sugar levels,” Paddison says. “If your body receives a constant influx of carbohydrates, or daily increases in blood sugar due to stress, your pancreas is taxed and exhausted. This can lead to insulin resistance, which in turn can lead to diabetes.”

As with Paddison’s patient, excessive thirst is an indicator of diabetes. Other symptoms include excessive urination, dizziness or blurry vision, and numbness or tingling in the extremities. Talk with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms, or if you are simply interested in your current risk status. A simple blood test can check your hemoglobin A1c, an average of your blood sugar for a three month period. An A1c level below 5.7 percent is ideal, while 5.7-6.4 percent indicates prediabetes and an A1c level greater than 6.4 indicates diabetes.  Don’t assume your level is below 5.7 only because you aren’t overweight.

“Your metabolism might be higher genetically, but that doesn’t affect how your body processes blood sugars and insulin,” Paddison says. “The weight scale can give some people a false sense of health.”



Did you know that diabetes can affect the eyes, and even cause blindness? Take our quiz to learn more

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