More than 100 million people worldwide have Type 2 diabetes, and in many parts of the world, men have higher rates of the condition than women. A recent study from the University of Glasgow in Scotland suggests a possible explanation for this: Men may be “biologically more susceptible” to the condition.
In Type 2 diabetes, high blood glucose is caused mainly by a combination of two factors: insulin resistance, a condition in which the body does not use insulin efficiently, and insufficient insulin secretion by the pancreas. A variety of factors increase the risk of developing Type 2, such as being overweight or obese, storing fat in the abdomen (as opposed to in the hips or thighs), and being physically inactive. Age, race, family history, and a personal history of gestational diabetes or prediabetes also contribute to a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
To determine whether men and women develop diabetes at different average body-mass index (BMI, a measure of a person’s weight in relation to his height) levels, researchers from the university analyzed data from 43,137 women and 51,920 men with Type 2. They compared the participants’ BMI levels (recorded within one year of diagnosis) and also took into account other factors such as age and smoking rates. The data showed that the average BMI at diagnosis was 31.83 among men but 33.69 among women. The difference was most pronounced at younger ages.
According to lead study author Naveed Sattar, MD, PhD, “Previous research has indicated that middle-aged men are at a higher risk of developing diabetes than women and one possible explanation is that men have to gain less weight than women to develop the condition. In other words, men appear to be at higher risk for diabetes.”
Fat distribution may explain the men’s tendency to develop diabetes at lower BMI levels: Typically, women store more fat subcutaneously (under the skin) in areas such as the hips and thighs, while men tend to store more of their fat in the abdomen. Therefore, women may need to accumulate a greater total amount of fat before they begin to develop harmful deposits in the abdominal area.
To learn more about the study, read the article “Men Develop Diabetes With Less Weight Gain Than Women” or see the study’s abstract in the journal Diabetologia.