Updated: Aug 27
I was at a birthday celebration recently where a dad told his kids they couldn't have any more cake. He proudly declared that he is "on a mission to save his kids from diabetes" since there is a high incidence of type 2 diabetes in their family.
I can't tell you how shocked I was. I asked my partner later, "Wait, what? People still believe sugar causes diabetes??" He replied with something like "Yeah Erin, that's still the common belief among lots of people." I sat there with my mouth open as we realized that I'm in such a Health at Every Size®, fat-positive bubble in my life and work that I didn't realize this was still such a common belief. But, actually, even when I worked in diabetes spaces that weren't weight-inclusive, it was common knowledge that sugar doesn't cause diabetes.
So here I am to say it once and for all: Sugar. Doesn't. Cause. Diabetes.
(If you are wondering what we DO know about what causes diabetes, check out my FREE eBook here for an in-depth look into this topic)
Since I'm a science-lover at heart, and there's nothing like refuting myths with science, here are a handful of studies showing no correlation between sugar intake and diabetes.
Content warning in these studies for weight-stigmatizing language.
Meta-analysis (some of the strongest research, since it compiles multiple studies) that found those consuming the most sugar actually had a 9 percent lower risk of developing diabetes, compared with those consuming the least sugar. The study authors concluded: "Current evidence does not allow us to conclude that fructose-containing sugars independent of food form are associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes." Translation: The evidence available to us now does not allow us to say that sugar causes diabetes.
This prospective study using data from the Women's Health Study that followed over 39,000 women for an average of 10 years found that intake of sugars did not affect prevention of type 2 diabetes.
Last but not least, looking at both men and women, this study analyzed beverage intake and found that sweetened beverage consumption showed no consistent association with the incidence of type 2 diabetes.
I'd be remiss to not mention that nutrition science is VERY difficult to conduct, and even the best ways we have to do nutrition research are quite flawed. In addition, the studies cited here do not include folks who don't fit into the gender binary. All research needs to be taken in conjunction with our own experiences and what resources are available.
Risk factors for diabetes are much more complicated and varied than simply sugar intake. And I'll say it again, now that we've done a deep dive into the research: Sugar doesn't cause diabetes.