The National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020 reported several jarring statistics:
- 34.2 million Americans have diabetes; this equates to approximately 1 in 10 people.
- 88 million American adults have prediabetes; this equates to approximately 1 in 3 people.
- 37% of those newly diagnosed had chronic kidney disease (stages 1 through 4).
- 89% of adults diagnosed with diabetes are overweight.
- 15% of adults diagnosed with diabetes are smokers.
- 38% of adults diagnosed with diabetes are physically inactive.
We have been taught that type 2 diabetes is preventable. According to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 9 out of 10 cases are preventable. So, exactly how do we prevent it?
Prediabetes versus type 2 diabetes
Prediabetes is when blood sugar levels are higher than normal—but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. As discussed before, about 88 million American adults have prediabetes. However, 84% do not know that they have it.
Prediabetes can be diagnosed by the following lab values:
- An A1c test of 5.7% to 6.4%
- A fasting blood sugar of 100mg/dl to 125mg/dl
- A blood sugar of 140mg/dl to 199mg/dl during a glucose tolerance test
Type 2 diabetes is when blood sugar levels are higher than normal. This is caused when the body does not make enough insulin or is unable to use insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone naturally produced by the body that allows glucose (sugar) to be used for energy.
Type 2 diabetes can be diagnosed by the following lab values:
- An A1c test of 6.5% or above
- A fasting blood sugar of 125mg/dl or above
- A blood sugar of 200mg/dl or higher during a glucose tolerance test
- A random glucose of 200mg/dl
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Risk factors for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
There are several risk factors that can increase the risk for development of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes:
- Being overweight and obese
- Being 45 or older
- Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
- Being physically inactive
- Having a personal medical history of gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds
- Having a personal medical history of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
Prevention of type 2 diabetes
There are a variety of measures that can be taken to prevent diabetes from occurring. These measures can also be taken even if you already have type 2 diabetes (these can help prevent diabetes from worsening).
Being overweight or obese is the single highest risk factor for type 2 diabetes. According to the Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “Being overweight increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes seven-fold. Being obese makes you 20 to 40 times more likely to develop diabetes than someone with a healthy weight.”
Weight loss does not need to be significant—losing even 7% to 10% of the current weight can reduce the risk of development of type 2 diabetes in half. For example, if someone weights 250 pounds, this is as little as 17.5 pounds.
A lack of movement increases the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes because it promotes insulin resistance. Getting active, therefore, reduces insulin resistance.
How does this work? Doing something as simple as taking a walk allows the muscles to better use insulin and absorb glucose, therefore reducing insulin resistance.
Pick an exercise that you enjoy and stick with it. Like we mentioned above, a walk can reap incredible benefits. The Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study state that walking 30 minutes per day can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 30%.
Make some diet changes
There are four diet changes that can have a big impact on your blood sugar levels:
- Limit red meats, opting instead for lean meats or poultry, nuts, beans, or fish.
- Choose healthy fats, such as the fats found in nuts, seeds, and fish. Avoid fats such as trans fats that are found in margarine, packaged baked goods, and fried foods.
- Cut out sugary drinks, such as sweetened sodas and coffee drinks, opting instead for water, teas, and coffee.
- Cut out highly processed carbohydrates, selecting instead whole grains. Whole grains contain the bran and fiber that make them not only more satiating but can improve blood sugar control.
Review alcohol consumption
You do not need to be a teetotaler, but you should review how much alcohol you are consuming. Excess alcohol intake increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while light to moderate alcohol intake may increase the efficiency of insulin getting to the cells.
The T.H. Chan School of Public Health states, “If you already drink alcohol, the key is to keep your consumption in the moderate range, as higher amounts of alcohol could increase diabetes risk. If you don’t drink alcohol, there’s no need to start—you can get the same benefits by losing weight, exercising more, and changing your eating patterns.”
The bottom line…
While type 2 diabetes is not 100% preventable, there are several measures that can be undertaken to reduce your likelihood of developing it. Weight reduction, change of eating habits, and getting active can go a long way in reducing the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
- CDC. (2020, February 11). National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/diabetes-stat-report.html
- Diabetes Tests. (2019, May 15). CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/getting-tested.html
- Diabetes Type 2. (2020, December 10). Medlineplus.Gov; National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/diabetestype2.html
- Prediabetes – Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. (2020, June 11). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html
- Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes. (2012, September 18). T.H. Chan School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/disease-prevention/diabetes-prevention/preventing-diabetes-full-story/#:~:text=Type%202%20diabetes%20is%20largely