Obesity and Diabetes: What Is the Relationship?

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Obesity and type 2 diabetes often occur together. This is partly because obesity promotes inflammation throughout the body, potentially leading to changes in normal metabolic functions.

For example, these changes can affect the body's sensitivity to insulin (a hormone that helps metabolize food) and glucose metabolism (breaking foods down into sugar). In turn, these changes directly affect a person's risk of developing diabetes.

This article examines the connection between obesity and type 2 diabetes, including how to treat and manage both conditions.

An illustration about obesity and diabetes

Verywell / Mira Norian

Connection Between Obesity and Diabetes

Obesity is a condition in which a person carries more body fat than is considered healthy, often increasing their risk for other health conditions. When someone has obesity—especially when excess body fat is carried around the abdomen (belly)—their risk of developing diabetes increases.

Obesity-related inflammation plays a role in developing diabetes, likely by reducing insulin sensitivity and increasing insulin resistance (the body's inability to properly respond to insulin). When this happens, the cells no longer respond well to insulin and have trouble receiving glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream.

In response, the pancreas makes extra insulin, which can lead to higher-than-normal blood sugar levels over time. To counteract the continuously high glucose, the liver then converts sugar into fat and stores it as additional body fat.

Obesity can also raise your risk of developing other chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), stroke, heart disease, gallbladder disease, certain cancers, inflammatory joint conditions, and acid reflux.


While diabetes can affect anyone, the risk of developing it is higher among people with obesity. This is because of the inflammation generally accompanying obesity and its effects on insulin resistance and glucose metabolism. However, having type 2 diabetes does not necessarily increase the risk of obesity.

When obesity and diabetes occur together, there is a risk that one or both of these conditions could get worse, especially if lifestyle changes are not made or prescribed medication is not taken.

However, there is also an opportunity to improve both conditions by making lifestyle changes and following prescribed medical treatment.

Treatment and Management of Obesity With Diabetes

By improving obesity, diabetes can also improve—and vice versa. While diabetes often requires medication, both conditions benefit significantly from making similar lifestyle changes.

The best ways to address obesity include getting regular physical activity and eating a nutrient-dense diet.

Following a nutritious diet means avoiding ultra-processed and pre-packaged foods (which are often high in calories and low in nutrients) and eating plenty of whole plant foods and lean proteins that are naturally high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and low in added sugar, cholesterol, and saturated fat. This eating plan helps support weight loss and maintenance.

Managing diabetes also involves getting regular exercise and making similar diet changes. It's also helpful to pay attention to portion sizes and eat smaller meals more frequently. These lifestyle habits can help improve insulin sensitivity and manage blood sugar levels.


Type 2 diabetes and obesity are both considered preventable conditions. It's also possible to prevent diabetes from developing if you already have obesity.

Lifestyle Changes

Obesity and type 2 diabetes can often be prevented by making lifestyle changes like incorporating regular exercise into your days to improve blood sugar and help with weight loss.

If you're not already exercising, start small and create a physical activity routine that you enjoy, such as jogging, swimming, biking, yoga, and strength training.

Lifestyle adjustments can also include eating a diet that's based on whole foods rather than ultra-processed or pre-packaged foods (which are often high in added sugar, salt, and saturated fat).

Whole foods include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean proteins
  • Legumes (e.g., beans, peas, lentils)
  • Nuts and seeds

Choose water for hydration and leave sugary sodas and juices for once-in-a-while treats.


Preventive screenings are a critical part of your overall health and wellness. At the very least, try to see your healthcare provider once a year for a wellness check—even if you're not having abnormal symptoms. They will do a comprehensive health screening that includes blood work and a physical exam.

Symptoms to Watch For

In addition to weight gain, there are some other signs and symptoms of diabetes you should know.

Some possible symptoms of diabetes include:

Speak to your healthcare provider if you notice any of these symptoms.


Obesity can lead to the development of related health conditions, including diabetes. Obesity commonly triggers inflammation in the body, which can interfere with metabolic functions like normal insulin sensitivity and glucose control.

Having obesity and diabetes at the same time is challenging because the conditions can affect one another negatively. However, they can also be improved with medication management and lifestyle changes.

A Word From Verywell

Both obesity and type 2 diabetes are common conditions. While it can be overwhelming to be diagnosed with either or both, there are many things you can do to manage and treat these conditions.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Khanna D, Khanna S, Khanna P, et al. Obesity: a chronic low-grade inflammation and its markersCureus. 2022;14(2):e22711. doi:10.7759/cureus.22711

  2. Bawadi H, Katkhouda R, Tayyem R, et al. Abdominal fat is directly associated with inflammation in persons with type-2 diabetes regardless of glycemic control - a jordanian study. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2019;12:2411-2417. doi:10.2147/DMSO.S214426

  3. Liu R, Nikolajczyk BS. Tissue immune cells fuel obesity-associated inflammation in adipose tissue and beyond. Front Immunol. 2019;10:1587. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2019.01587

  4. Tsalamandris S, Antonopoulos AS, Oikonomou E, et al. The role of inflammation in diabetes: current concepts and future perspectivesEur Cardiol. 2019;14(1):50-59. doi:10.15420/ecr.2018.33.1

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Insulin Resistance and Diabetes.

  6. Ofei F. Obesity - a preventable diseaseGhana Med J. 2005;39(3):98-101.

  7. Melmer A, Kempf P, Laimer M. The role of physical exercise in obesity and diabetes. Praxis (Bern 1994). 2018;107(17-18):971-976. doi:10.1024/1661-8157/a003065

  8. Lumb A. Diabetes and exerciseClin Med (Lond). 2014;14(6):673-676. doi:10.7861/clinmedicine.14-6-673

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes - Symptoms.

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD
Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, is a plant-based dietitian, writer, and speaker who specializes in helping people bring more plants to their plate. She's a highly respected writer in the health and nutrition space and loves talking about the power of diet. Lauren aims to connect people with the information and resources to live their healthiest, fullest life.