Can a Fit Person Get Diabetes? Risk Factors

Medically Reviewed on 3/9/2022
Can a Fit Person Get Diabetes
No matter how thin or fit you are, you can still get diabetes. About 10%-15% of people with type II diabetes are at a healthy weight, a condition called lean diabetes

No matter how thin or fit you are, you can still get diabetes. About 10%-15% of people with type II diabetes are at a healthy weight, a condition called lean diabetes

Even if you do not have visible fat, you may have visceral fat, which is fat that grows around your organs. So even people who look healthy on the outside may still be at risk of developing conditions like diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder that affects the way your body converts food into energy. 

The majority of the carbs you consume is converted to sugar and absorbed into your circulation. When your blood sugar levels increase, it causes your pancreas to release insulin, which is a hormone that allows blood sugar to enter cells and be used as energy. 

If you have diabetes, your body either does not produce enough insulin or does not use it as effectively as it should. This leads to too much blood sugar that stays in your bloodstream. When not managed, this in turn can lead to major health issues such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney problems over time.

What are risk factors for diabetes?

Diabetes risk factors vary depending on the type:

Type I diabetes risk factors

Although the specific cause of type I diabetes is unknown, the following factors may indicate a higher risk:

  • Family history. If you have a parent or sibling who has type I diabetes, you are at higher risk of developing the disease.
  • Environmental factors. Exposure to a viral disease, for example, is likely to play a role in the development of type I diabetes.
  • Geography. Type I diabetes is more common in some countries, such as Finland and Sweden.

Prediabetes and type II diabetes risk factors

Researchers are not sure why some people get prediabetes and type II diabetes and others do not. Certain factors, however, can increase the risk:

  • Family history. If you have a parent or sibling who has type II diabetes, your risk increases.
  • Ethnicity. Certain ethnicities—African, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian American—are more vulnerable to the disease.
  • Age. Risk increases with age. This could be because as people age they tend to exercise less, lose muscle mass, and gain weight. However, type II diabetes is becoming more common in children, adolescents, and young adults.
  • Weight. Your cells become more insulin resistant as you gain more fatty tissue.
  • Inactivity. The lower the level of physical activity, the greater the risk. Physical activity helps you burn glucose for energy and makes cells more insulin-sensitive.
  • Diabetes during pregnancy. If you had gestational diabetes while pregnant, you are more likely to develop prediabetes and type II diabetes later in life. You are at risk of type II diabetes if your infant weighs more than 9 pounds.
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a common disorder marked by irregular menstrual cycles, excessive hair growth, and obesity that increases the risk of diabetes in women.
  • Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. You are more prone to developing type II diabetes if you have low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides.


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What are the different types of diabetes?

There are different types of diabetes, and it is important to determine which type you have in order to successfully treat and manage it.

  • Type I diabetes: Type I diabetes occurs when your body is unable to produce insulin, causing your blood sugar levels to be abnormally high. Insulin is necessary to allow blood glucose to enter cells and be converted to energy. If you have type I diabetes, your body continues to break down carbs and convert them to glucose. However, there is no insulin to enable the glucose to reach the cells of your body. As a result, more glucose accumulates in the system, and blood sugar levels increase.
  • Type II diabetes: With type II diabetes, your body does not produce enough insulin or utilize it properly, causing too much glucose to stay in your blood. Type II diabetes can occur at any age, although it is more common in middle-aged and older people.  Symptoms of type II diabetes usually appear gradually over several years.
  • Prediabetes: Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood glucose levels are higher than they should be but still not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Most people who acquire type II diabetes had prediabetes initially.
  • Gestational diabetes: Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that affects women during pregnancy. It occurs when your body does not produce enough insulin or does not respond well to insulin during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes affects between 2%-10% of pregnancies each year. 

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Diabetes symptoms vary depending on the severity of the condition. Some patients, particularly those with prediabetes or type II diabetes, may not have any symptoms at all. However, type I diabetes symptoms tend to be more severe and obvious.

Common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Patches of dark skin, especially on the back of the neck and in the armpits or groin

How is diabetes diagnosed?

Correct diagnosis of diabetes is crucial for management of the disease. Tests used to diagnose the condition include:

  • Fasting plasma glucose test: This test measures your blood glucose levels after you have fasted for at least 8 hours beforehand. Blood sugar levels indicate the following:
    • Normal: 99 mg/dL 
    • Prediabetes: 100 to 125 mg/dL
    • Diabetes: 126 mg/dL or higher
  • Oral glucose test: This test measures your blood glucose levels after you have fasted for at least 8 hours beforehand and had a glucose-containing beverage. Blood sugar levels indicate the following: 
    • Normal: 140 mg/dL
    • Prediabetes: 140 to 199 mg/dL
    • Diabetes: 200 mg/dL or higher
  • Random plasma glucose test: In this test, your doctor tests your blood sugar without considering your last meal. Blood sugar levels indicate the following: 
    • Normal: Less than 140 mg/dL
    • Prediabetes: 140 to 199 mg/dL 
    • Diabetes: 200 mg/dL or higher
  • Hemoglobin A1c test: Fasting is not required for this test.

How is diabetes treated?

Depending on the type of diabetes you have, blood sugar monitoring, insulin, and oral medications may play a role in treatment. 

  • Treatment of type I diabetes includes insulin injections or the use of an insulin pump, regular glucose checkups, and dietary modifications. 
  • Treatment of type II diabetes includes lifestyle changes, blood glucose monitoring, diabetes medications, and insulin.

Eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly are all important factors in managing diabetes and controlling the disease:

  • Eat healthy: Under the advice of your doctor, create a diabetes meal plan. Reduce your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and salt. Eat fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Drink water and cut back on juice or sugary drinks.
  • Monitor your calories: If you’re on medication, add up your total calories for each meal and adjust your medications accordingly. For a few days, monitor your meals and blood sugar levels 2 hours after eating. This will help you identify which foods affect your blood sugar levels the most.
  • Be active: Exercise at least 5 days a week. You can start by going on several 10-minute walks a day, doing strength training 2 times a week, and engaging in other physical activity.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/9/2022
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