SHE Foundation - "la Caixa" Foundation
Diabetes and obesity: the cost of ignorance


Alarmed by his latest test results, Luis goes to see his family doctor.

– I see your glucose level is 150… congratulations!, the doctor says.

– Congratulations, what do you mean? My sugar level is high!

– Yes, that’s true. But in a way you are lucky, because most people in this situation do not realise they have a problem and so do nothing to sort it out. But you understand what is going on, so we are going to find a solution.

The media have been telling us for some time now that 1 out of every 4 people is diabetic or obese and half of these do not realise it. The words ‘do not realise’ are the most dangerous, because it means they are not taking steps to sort out two diseases that can be killers.

Luis is still worried –if I don’t like sweets, how is it that my sugar level is so high?

This confusion is down to the idea that diabetes arises from the inability to control blood sugar levels. And this association of ideas leads us to think, mistakenly, that if we have excess sugar in our diet, we will also have excess blood sugar. However, contrary to received wisdom, sweets are not the only things responsible for a risk of diabetes developing. In most cases, what leads to Type 2 diabetes is not an excess of sugar in the diet, but excess abdominal fat. Type 2 diabetes, which is what Luis has, usually appears in adults because abdominal fat secretes substances which interfere with the actions of insulin.

What do we have to do to catch diabetes in time?

Tests to detect Type 2 diabetes in asymptomatic people are recommended for:

  • Adults over 45 years old (every three years)
  • Obese children over 10 who have other risk factors (every three years)
  • Overweight adults (BMI over 25) with associated risk factors

These check-ups are doubly important when there is obesity or significant overweight, because the cardiovascular risk is greater. And, what is more, obesity acts like a secret army, because it boosts bad cholesterol, reduces good cholesterol, increases blood pressure and, as we have already said, leads to diabetes… to sum up, it attacks the heart on various fronts.

Furthermore, we should understand that obesity can in a short space of time create havoc in the cardiovascular system of some people; it is also true that losing a few centimetres around the waist brings short term benefits.

The American Heart Association advises us to reduce our weight, limit the consumption of high-calorie but nutritionally-poor foods – including soft drinks and sweets that contain a lot of sugar – eat a balanced diet and exercise on a daily basis. This is exactly what Luis’ doctor recommends to him. When Luis leaves the doctor’s, he breathes a sigh of relief because, despite knowing that he has more blood sugar than is advisable, he has decided to play his part in bringing his weight and blood glucose levels back to normal.

Sources and further information:
La ciencia de la salud (Planeta) (The Science of Health, in Spanish)
American Heart Association