A new study published last week in the Journal of the American Heart Association has estimated that obesity is one of the main culprits in up to 50% of new diabetes cases among Americans.

The study researchers found that obesity contributed between 30% and 53% of new type 2 diabetes diagnoses among middle-aged and older Americans over a period of 20 years.

Study author Dr. Sadiya Khan of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago said, “It very clearly looks like trends in obesity and type 2 diabetes run parallel to each other.”

More than 31 million Americans have diabetes, with the vast majority of them having type 2, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If poorly on controlled, type 2 diabetes can lead to complications such as heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, and vision impairment.

Dr. Khan said the new findings highlight the impact of obesity on the prevalence of diabetes, adding, “This raises the alarm.”

She also said the new findings imply that most cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented through measures like healthier eating and regular exercise, according to Medicine Net, acknowledging that is easier said than done.

The increased incidence of obesity has made it clear that telling Americans to change their habits does not work. Dr. Khan said, “This is not about wagging a finger at people,” noting that low-income Americans, in particular, face big challenges.

The researchers followed middle-aged and older adults who were obese and found that almost 12% developed type 2 diabetes. They found that white women were at greater diabetes risk.

Nevertheless, the good news is the study has left “no question” that lifestyle measures could reduce the risk of diabetes, according to Prof. Katherine O’Neal of the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy.

“For people who are obese, even a modest amount of weight loss brings benefits,” she said. “The most important factor is that these changes need to be a lifestyle and not temporary changes.”

Prof. O’Neal added that support from health care providers as well as family and friends goes a long way in preventing diabetes.

She said community healthcare clinics and churches could be good resources for information and motivation for low-income people. The article was published last week in Medicine Net.