Can You Get Diabetes from Eating Too Much Sugar?

Ask a Doctor

My doctor said that I’m prediabetic and I want to avoid developing type 2 diabetes. Does eating too much sugar give you diabetes?

Doctor’s Response

Studies have shown that reducing consumption of sugary drinks can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes. Drinking 1-2 cans of sugary drinks per day increased the risk of diabetes by 26% compared with people who did not consume sugared beverages. Eating plenty of fiber and whole grains can help maintain stable blood sugar levels and even reduce the risk of getting diabetes.

It has been shown that in people with prediabetes or people at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, even modest amounts of weight loss and physical activity can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes. Losing just 5%-7% of total body weight through 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days per week combined with healthier eating showed that it is possible to delay or prevent diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the result of the body not being able to effectively use insulin, and is referred to as insulin resistance. Because patients with type 2 diabetes can still produce insulin even though the body does not respond properly, blood levels of insulin can become elevated in some people with the condition. In some, the pancreas may not be able to properly release insulin that is produced.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes

  • Genetics is a strong risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. Those who have relatives with the condition are at greater risk.
  • Obesity is another major risk factor. There is a direct relationship between the severity of obesity and the likelihood of getting type 2 diabetes. This is also true for children and teens.
  • Distribution of body fat: Storing excess body fat around the waist is linked to a higher risk than storing fat in the hips and thighs.
  • Age is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The incidence increases with advancing age. There is an increase in type 2 diabetes with each decade over the age of 40, independent of weight.
  • Ethnicity: Certain racial and ethnic groups are more likely than others to develop type 2 diabetes. In particular, type 2 diabetes is most likely to occur in Native Americans (affecting 20%-50% of the population). It is also more common in African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and Asian Americans than in Caucasian Americans.
  • Gestational diabetes: Women who had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) are at increased risk for subsequently developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Sleep disorders: Untreated sleep disorders, particularly sleep apnea, are associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
  • Inactivity: Being physically active decreases the chance of getting type 2 diabetes.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Women with this condition have an increased likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.

For more information, read our full medical article on type 2 diabetes.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Harvard University. TH Chan School of Public Health. Soft Drinks and Disease.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Diabetes. Updated Sep 30, 2015.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. What I need to know about Physical Activity and Diabetes. August 2014.

Khardori, R. MD. et al. "Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus." Medscape. Updated Oct 08, 2015