'Couch Potato' Lifestyle Helps Drive Diabetes

Lack of exercise ups the risk for the disease, study finds

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HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Jan. 26, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- A new study offers another compelling reason to get up off the sofa and exercise.

The research shows that people with type 2 diabetes, or those at risk for the obesity-linked disease, are less likely to be physically active than those who are not at risk.

The benefits of physical activity in preventing diabetes are well-documented, but the message does not seem to be getting through, said study lead author Elaine Morrato.

"People don't think of inactivity as abnormal," said Morrato, an assistant professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver.

Her team published its findings in the February issue of Diabetes Care.

An estimated 20 million U.S. children and adults have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, although some are not yet aware they have it. Most -- about 95 percent -- have the obesity-linked type 2 form of the illness, but a minority have type 1 diabetes, an inherited condition in which the body fails to produce enough insulin.

In their study, Morrato and her colleagues evaluated data from a nationally representative survey of the U.S. population called the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which included more than 23,000 adults. Respondents answered questions about whether they engaged in moderate or vigorous activity 30 minutes or more at least three times a week.

Morrato's team found that just 39 percent of adults with diabetes were physically active, compared to 58 percent of those without diabetes.

Among those who did not have the disease but had risk factors for it, the researchers found that the more the risk factors, the less likely the people were to be active. "As the number of risk factors [for diabetes] increased, the proportion of people saying they are active decreases," Morrato said.

Risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes -- in which the body does not properly use insulin, the hormone which allows glucose to enter cells -- include being 45 years of age or older and having a body mass index of BMI of 25 or higher, the threshold for being considered overweight.

"If people had four risk factors, for instance, only 42 percent were active," Morrato said.

Another expert, Cathy Nonas, director of the obesity and diabetes program at North General Hospital in New York and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said she isn't surprised by the findings.

"We are a society that doesn't move very much," she said. "We're not seeing it get any better."

While consumers, especially those with diabetes or at risk for developing it, need to take charge and become active, Nonas said that health care providers should be more pro-active about encouraging exercise, too.

"We, as clinicians, have to be much more assertive," she said. She suggested that health care providers need to question patients more, asking them such things as, "Are you dancing?" "Are you walking?" "Are you parking in the back of the parking lot?"

More information

To learn more about diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association.

SOURCES: Cathy Nonas, M.S., R.D., certified diabetes educator and director, obesity and diabetes program, North General Hospital, New York City, and spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; Elaine Morrato, M.P.H., Dr.P.H., assistant professor, pediatrics and preventive medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine and assistant professor, clinical pharmacy, University of Colorado School of Pharmacy, Denver; February 2007, Diabetes Care

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