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Professor Draws Criticism for Linking Jeans Size to Diabetes Risk

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Can an old pair of jeans predict a person’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes? A new study suggests it may be possible.

The Guardian reported this week that Newcastle University professor Roy Taylor presented data at the annual European Association for the Study of Diabetes conference showing that, after losing 10 to 15 percent of their body fat, some individuals with type 2 diabetes were able to achieve remission.

To help individuals indicate whether or not they were at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, Taylor said that, “as a rule of thumb, your waist size should be the same now as when you were 21. If you can’t get into the same size trousers now, you are carrying too much fat and therefore at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even if you aren’t overweight.”

Participants in the study had an average BMI of 24.5, which the American Cancer Society deems to be on the higher end of the “normal weight” category. Though the study’s sample pool was small—just 8 out of 12 study participants achieved remission—Taylor used this data to infer that diabetes is “not caused by obesity, but by being too heavy for your own body.”

The Guardian reported the research on Monday, and by the following day, it had made the rounds on social media—not because of the study’s initial findings, but because of Taylor’s pant size commentary that followed, which some considered to be problematic.

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Twitter users scrutinized the statement, with many noting that weight fluctuation is normal as people age—and as they live through a global pandemic. According to Maria Rugolo, director, industry analyst at market research firm The NPD Group, nearly 40 percent of women are now wearing a different size compared to one year ago.

Though many on the social media platform called out what they deemed to be problematic advice, others playfully shared images of jeans styles they were wearing in their 20s to show that their loose-fitting JNCO jeans and ultra-low-rise flares didn’t accurately represent their waist measurements at the time.

Twitter user @fkadaveheal commented “So if I hadn’t worn JNCOs I’d be at risk but b/c [sic] my pants were enormous I’m not?” while user @anna_orso summed up the millennial skinny jeans experience with “I couldn’t even fit into the jeans I wore at 21 when I was 21.”

Still, experts believe waist circumference is a valid indication of one’s likelihood of developing certain illnesses. Harvard’s School of Public Health reported that having a “larger waist” may mean that person has a higher risk of health problems than someone with a slimmer waist.

A representative at Diabetes UK, the health organization that funded the type 2 diabetes study, warned that the research is still in its initial stages, with full results expected to publish next year.