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About Diabetes

Diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndromes are disorders that arise from abnormalities in how sugar and other nutrients are used by our bodies.


Diabetes was first recognized by the ancient Greeks as a disorder caused by the abnormal passage of sugar into the urine. Now, we recognize that it is a chronic disease characterized by high levels of glucose in the blood. Today, diabetes is the leading cause of cardiovascular diseases including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, amputations, and pregnancy complications in the United States.

Types of Diabetes

  • Juvenile Diabetes/ Type 1 Diabetes: Caused by the autoimmune destruction of a person’s pancreatic beta cells, which secrete insulin
  • Adult-onset Diabetes/ Type 2 Diabetes: Caused by pancreatic beta cells producing insufficient insulin to overcome an insulin resistance and maintain normal glucose metabolism
  • Gestational Diabetes: Affects the way pregnant women process blood sugar (glucose) and can affect the metabolic health of the child

Diabetes Facts

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • If the current trends continue, one in three American adults will have diabetes by 2050
  • Ten percent of Americans have Type 2 Diabetes. Eighty-five percent of this group is overweight or obese
  • Thirty-four percent of Americans are pre-diabetics and have a risk of developing Type 2 diabetes within five years


Obesity is defined as excessive body fat and causes resistance to insulin. Because of this, obesity is the most common cause of diabetes. There is still much about obesity as a disease that is not fully understood, including why some obese patients are more likely to develop complications than others, why obese patients are susceptible to weight gain in situations where others would resist it, and why obesity is also an independent risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Obesity, in addition to being a contributor to diabetes and a host of other diseases, is one of the major epidemics of our time. It threatens to lower, for the first time, the life expectancy of our next generation. The root causes are biological, evolutionary, psychological, sociological, economic, and political.

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is characterized by obesity, resistance to insulin, and abnormal levels of blood fats like cholesterol. It is present in over one third of the population, placing these individuals at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Learn More

Connect with additional education related to diabetes via the Northwestern Medicine Diabetes Information site. See more about treatment of these conditions in the Patient Care section.