When you envision a person with type 2 diabetes, you tend to picture someone obese, not thin. But, according to the National Institutes of Health, some 15 percent of individuals with type 2 diabetes are not even overweight, much less obese.

Here, three reasons you can be young and thin, and still have diabetes.

1. Skinny Fat

"It is possible for you to be fat but to be in a thin body," says Betul Hatipoglu, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic. "If you have fat around your organs, even though you may be a normal weight, you can develop type 2 diabetes," she explains.

Spyros Mezitis, MD, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City agrees: "Lean doesn't always mean healthy. When some people don't exercise or eat right, they develop insulin resistance as the fat cells in the body block insulin action." Over time, the body tries to produce more and more insulin to deal with rising blood sugars, but the insulin doesn't act as it should, and the insulin resistance becomes diabetes."

2. Stress

Stress can sometimes be blamed as a cause of type 2 diabetes, says Mezitis. "The more people are stressed, the more of the stress hormone cortisol they make," he explains. That stress hormone causes the blood sugar to rise temporarily. "Eventually, the body has trouble producing enough insulin to deal with all the sugar, and insulin resistance sets in," Mezitis says.

Additionally, cortisol can result in an increase in visceral (belly) fat in stressed-out women who are of a normal weight.

3. Genetics

Some individuals develop type 2 diabetes because of genetics, says Stuart Weinerman, MD, of the North Shore/LIJ Health System in Great Neck, NY. "There is a large group of people who for genetic reasons get diabetes at a young age," he says.

Treating a young, thin person with type 2 diabetes still focuses on a healthy diet and exercise, Weinerman says. "They may be more likely to need medication," he says. "If the cause of the diabetes is obesity, you can fix the obesity, but this isn't an issue for some people."

If you are thin and young, is there a way to help prevent type 2 diabetes?

Get plenty of exercise. "Exercising and avoiding junk food plays a huge role," says Mezitis. "Everything points to lifestyle modifications as playing a huge role here in averting the progression of diabetes."

Eat quality carbs. Make sure that the majority of carbs you eat are fruits and vegetables, not white bread and bagels. "Eat complex carbohydrates, and choose items that are higher in protein rather than lower in protein," Hatipoglu advises.

Investigate your family's medical history. If members of your family have type 2 diabetes, be extra vigilant about diet and exercise. "If you have a family history, you are at risk for developing it," says Hatipoglu.

Heed unusual symptoms. See your doctor if you have weight loss and unexplained fatigue so that type 2 diabetes can be ruled out, Weinerman says.

Spyros Mezitis, MD, reviewed this article.




Subramanian, Sushma. "Type 2 diabetes in women: young, slim, and diabetic." Updated 8 August 2012. WomensHealthMag. http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/type-2-diabetes?page=1