American Diet Ups Your Risk of Diabetes

Eating too much high-fat meat, not enough fish, contributing to diabetes epidemic

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 20, 2003
From the WebMD Archives

June 20, 2003 -- The fatty staples of the western diet, such as steaks and hamburgers, may be fueling the current surge in type 2 diabetes rates. A new study suggests that people who eat a diet high in saturated or animal fat are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than others.

Researchers say surveys of people with diabetes have suggested a link between the amount of saturated fat in a person’s diet and diabetes risk, but until now that link has not been confirmed by biological evidence.

In this study, they looked at the levels of fatty acids in the blood, which reflects how much saturated fat a person generally eats over time, and compared it to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes among a group of 2,909 adults aged 45-64. The results appear in the July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

During nine years of follow-up, 252 of the men and women developed type 2 diabetes.

After adjusting for other factors known to affect the risk of type 2 diabetes, such as age, sex, body mass index (BMI), alcohol intake, cigarette smoking, physical activity, education, and family history of diabetes, researchers found the level of fatty acids in the blood was significantly associated with diabetes risk. As the level of fatty acids increased, the likelihood that the person developed type 2 diabetes also increased.

Researcher Lu Wang, of the University of Minnesota, and colleagues say previous studies have shown that the fatty acid composition of the blood provides an objective estimate of the dietary intake of saturated fat for weeks to months before the sample is taken. By linking this marker of saturated fat intake in the diet to the occurrence of diabetes, they say the findings provide biological evidence of the link between a fatty diet and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Researchers say the findings are in line with previous studies that suggest a western lifestyle -- characterized by a diet with a high intake of total and animal fat, obesity, and low intake of fish and carbohydrates -- may be to blame for high diabetes rates in the west compared with other areas.