Characterization of metabolically unhealthy normal-weight individuals: Risk factors and their associations with type 2 diabetes

Metabolism. 2015 Aug;64(8):862-71. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2015.03.009. Epub 2015 Mar 26.


Objective: A proportion of type 2 diabetes cases arise from normal-weight individuals who can therefore be considered to be "metabolically unhealthy normal-weight" (MUH-NW). It remains unclear which factors account for this access risk. Our aims were to identify risk factors for type 2 diabetes in normal-weight individuals and to compare the strengths of their associations with type 2 diabetes to that observed in overweight and obese participants.

Methods: A case-cohort, including 2027 sub-cohort participants and 706 incident type 2 cases, was designed within the population-based European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Potsdam study. Adjusted means and relative frequencies of anthropometric, lifestyle and biochemical risk factors were calculated in groups stratified by BMI and incident diabetes status. Cox regressions were applied to evaluate associations between these variables and diabetes risk stratified by BMI category.

Results: MUH-NW individuals were characterized by known diabetes risk factors, e.g. they were significantly more likely to be male, former smokers, hypertensive, and less physically active compared to normal-weight individuals without incident diabetes. Higher waist circumference (women: 75.5 vs. 73.1cm; men: 88.0 vs. 85.1cm), higher HbA1c (6.1 vs. 5.3%), higher triglycerides (1.47 vs. 1.11 mmol/l), and higher levels of high sensitive C-reactive protein (0.81 vs. 0.51 mg/l) as well as lower levels of HDL-cholesterol (1.28 vs. 1.49 mmol/l) and adiponectin (6.32 vs. 8.25 μg/ml) characterized this phenotype. Stronger associations with diabetes among normal-weight participants compared to overweight and obese (p for interaction<0.05) were observed for height, waist circumference, former smoking, and hypertension.

Conclusions: Normal-weight individuals who develop diabetes have higher levels of diabetes risk factors, however, frequently still among the normal range. Still, hypertension, elevated HbA1c and lifestyle risk factors might be useful indicators of risk.

Keywords: Anthropometry; Biomarkers; Metabolically unhealthy normal-weight; Risk factors; Type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology*
  • Female
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A / analysis
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / complications
  • Life Style
  • Lipids / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk Factors
  • Waist Circumference


  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • Lipids
  • hemoglobin A1c protein, human
  • C-Reactive Protein