Obesity Progression Between Young Adulthood and Midlife and Incident Diabetes: A Retrospective Cohort Study of U.S. Adults


Understanding how changes in weight over the life course shape risk for diabetes is critical for the prevention of diabetes. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), we investigated the association between self-reported weight change from young adulthood to midlife and incident diabetes.


We categorized individuals into four weight-change groups: those who remained nonobese (stable nonobese), those who moved from an obese BMI to a nonobese BMI (losing), those who moved from a nonobese BMI to an obese BMI (gaining), and those who remained obese (stable obese). Diabetes status was determined by self-report of a prior diagnosis, and age at diagnosis was used to establish time of diabetes onset. Hazard ratios (HRs) relating weight change to incident diabetes over 10 years of follow-up were calculated using Cox models adjusting for covariates.


Those who were obese and lost weight exhibited a significantly lower risk (HR 0.33; 95% CI 0.14, 0.76) of diabetes compared with those with stable obesity. We also observed lower risk among those who were stable nonobese (HR 0.22; 95% CI 0.18, 0.28) and those in the gaining category (HR 0.70; 95% CI 0.57, 0.87). Further, there was evidence of an increased incidence of diabetes among obese individuals who lost weight compared with individuals who were stable nonobese; however, weight loss was rare, and the association was not statistically significant. If those who were obese had become nonobese during the 10-year period, we estimate that 9.1% (95% CI 5.3, 12.8) of observed diabetes cases could have been averted, and if the population had maintained a normal BMI during the period, 64.2% (95% CI 59.4, 68.3) of cases could have been averted.


The findings from this study underscore the importance of population-level approaches to the prevention and treatment of obesity across the life course of individuals.

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