Updated 09 February 2017

'Only fat people get diabetes'

Diabetes is not exclusively a 'fat people's' disease.


Many people believe that "only fat people get diabetes". However, diabetes is not exclusively a “fat people”’s disease. Though being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, being thin does not safeguard you from diabetes. There are many other factors such as family history, ethnicity and age that also play a role.

Many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight; and one of the first symptoms in people who develop type 1 diabetes often is rapid weight loss. Diabetes can also develop in elderly people who are thin but whose pancreas is not functioning properly any more.

The problem with this “fat diabetic” stereotype is that many diabetics go undiagnosed because they simply believe that they are not in a high-risk group.

Make a point to learn the symptoms of diabetes and share this information with friends and family.

Typical symptoms for type 1 diabetes could include excessive thirst, weight loss, excessive urination, tiredness, blurry eyesight, losing the feeling or feeling a tingling in your feet. Though anyone can develop type 1 diabetes, it’s usually children and people younger than 40 who are affected. Sometimes the first warning signs occur when a person’s blood sugar is very high and risks going into a diabetic coma. These include deep, rapid breathing, dry skin and mouth, flushed face, fruit breath odour, nausea or vomiting (inability to keep down fluids) and stomach pain.

Apart from genetics, the reasons for developing type 1 diabetes are unknown.

People with type 2 diabetes often have no obvious symptoms at first and may not have any for many years, which is why it’s so important to look at potential lifestyle factors such as following an unhealthy diet (high in salt, sugar and fats), not exercising  and carrying excess weight around the waist.

When symptoms do start to manifest themselves in type 2 diabetics, they include bladder, kidney, skin or other infections that are more frequent or heal slowly, fatigue, hunger, increased thirst, increased urination, blurred vision, erectile dysfunction and pain or numbness in the feet or hands.

Finally, have your blood sugar levels checked regularly. It’s a simple and painless finger prick test and shouldn't take longer than a few minutes. Checking your blood sugar levels should become, like your routine blood pressure and cholesterol tests, a standard part of your annual health check-up. Early diagnosis and treatment ensure improved health and help to keep long-term complications at bay.



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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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