A new study from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg says middle-aged women who have large abdominal fat cells are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to women with smaller fat cells. Waist circumference divided by body height can also be used to determine which women are at risk.

The study is based on the extensive population study of women in "Gothenburg Kvinnoundersökningen i Göteborg". 

"The results indicate that large fat cells contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, and we will now begin investigating the mechanisms behind this finding. Increased knowledge about large fat cells and their effects may lead to new preventive and therapeutic alternativs," says Malin Lönn, associate professor in experimental medicine at the Sahlgrenska Academy.

The researchers analyzed data on cell size collected from 245 women in 1974-75, and found that the 36 women who developed diabetes over the course of 25 years had larger abdominal fat cells than those who did not develop the disease. The larger the fat cells, the larger the probability of developing type 2 diabetes. Since a person's fat cells vary significantly in size, the researchers used an average for each person. 

In addition, the study reveals a simpler and faster way to predict which women are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes: waist circumference divided by body height.

"Our study suggests that this ratio may be even better than fat cell size at estimating who is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The higher the waist-to-height ratio, the higher the risk," says Lönn. 

The study is based on "Kvinnoundersökningen i Göteborg", which was started in 1968 by Professor Emeritus Calle Bengtsson. Since inception, almost 1500 women aged 38-60 have been interviewed about their lives and examined by a physician regularly. New women have been recruited over the years, making it possible to both follow a generation over time and compare different generations.

Results which will be published in the next issue of the FASEB Journal.