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Can Thin People Get Diabetes?

  • timeline Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri - Primary Care Physician
  • 4 Min Read
  • Fact Checked

India is deemed the diabetes capital of the world. More and more younger generations are being affected. The disease which was supposed to affect older individuals above 50 years of age, is now being common in adults between 30-45 years. The number of diabetes cases have increased alarmingly in the last two decades amidst the obesity pandemic. Diabetes, which is thought to be more common in obese and overweight individuals is now being seen in individuals of normal weight or in those that are lean/thin. So to answer the simple question of if thin people with diabetes is a possibility – yes it is. 

A recent study found that 20-30 percent of diabetic individuals are, in fact, in the normal range of BMI. This study busted the myth that obesity is not the only main causative factor.

Why do lean people become diabetic?

Lean people are considered to be lean based on  their BMI. One important drawback of this BMI is that it can not measure the visceral fat (fat around the organs which are inside). So a person may be lean but metabolically equivalent to someone who is obese.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance. The body cells, especially muscle cells, will not be able to use glucose and hence they depend on fat and protein breakdown for energy purposes which makes the person lose weight. In thin individuals, it can be either Diabetes type 1 or type 2 and most of the time it’s both. There is no exact reason for Diabetes in thin individuals but it is found out that there is interplay of genetic/ lifestyle factors.

(1) Failure of Beta cell function: Genetic defects which cause impairment in the production of insulin can lead to improper production and this can usually present early. Also, there is a possibility for the development of autoantibodies against beta cells causing their destruction. Furthermore, there is a 40% increased chance of diabetes if one parent has it.

(2) Poor eating habits: A diet high in sugars and fat will cause insulin resistance in the body. If one stops eating sugar that will partially cause glucose releasing hormones to be released and insulin can not function normally.

Watch the video below by Dietitian Pooja Bohra to understand what foods should a diabetic eat in order to control their blood sugar.


(3) Sedentary lifestyle: Having a normal BMI does not help in preventing diabetes. There still can be fat around the abdomen area which releases chemical substances and hormones that will not let insulin perform its normal function of driving glucose into muscle cells. 

(4) Exercise: When a person exercises, muscle takes up the excess glucose and also the sensitivity to insulin increases. This helps in normalising sugar levels. It should be a combined workout with cardio and strength training as the more muscle we have the better the insulin sensitivity will be.

(5) Avoid Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption: A recent study revealed that incidence of diabetes is increased in lean individuals who smoke and drink excessively. Long term alcohol consumption leads to fat deposition in liver and pancreas there by damaging beta cells and leading to diabetes.

Any diabetes symptoms are not to be ignored. A person can have normal BMI but can present with excessive thirst, hunger, frequent urination, recurrent infections, tiredness and fatigue. But, there are ways to stay healthy, of course.

Ways to stay healthy

(1) Eat a balanced diet: Try to cut out excessive calories and make an alternative healthy option. Avoiding processed foods, soft drinks, fried and fatty foods will help you from gaining visceral fat.

Thin people with diabetes

(2) Physical activity: Moderate intensity exercises along with strength training will help in lowering the risk of diabetes. 150 min per week for at least 5 days is recommended

Thin people with diabetes

(3) Stress: Avoiding stress will lessen the chances of hypersecretion of cortisol which will make a person prone to diabetes. Yoga, meditation, tai chi will help to reduce stress levels. Also, 7-8 hours of sleep is mandatory for good health

Thin people with diabetes

(4) Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption

Thin people with diabetes

Besides following a healthy lifestyle, it’s also crucial to keep an eye on blood parameters at least once a year after 30 yrs age to understand the risk factors and work on them. Thin people with diabetes are sometimes misunderstood because of the link between diabetes and obesity. This is a dangerous thought because as discussed Diabetes is possibly in those with healthy BMI’s. Understanding what causes type 2 diabetes, and what causes blood sugar to rise is important. Should you experience any of the symptoms of diabetes consult a physician immediately. They will help you focus on your treatment, both in the lifestyle department, and medications, should you need them. You can also do a Diabetes screening test with MFine and manage your sugar levels at home with professional advice, support and care.

  • timeline
  • Written by

    Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri - Primary Care Physician

Dr. Sreelekha is an MBBS with 5+ yrs of experience working as Primary care Physician on Mfine. She initially worked with corporate hospitals and then as a resident in JIPMER for 2 years. She believes in a holistic approach to health care. She is also a public speaker, a blog writer and holds interest in spreading awareness on health through digital media.

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