Diabetes Education

Preventing Diabetes

Preventing diabetes for a healthy future

Diabetes is a group of diseases defined by increased levels of blood sugar because of defective processing of insulin in the body. The fuel in our bodies is blood sugar, formally referred to as blood glucose. In normal bodies the pancreas produces insulin to assist blood sugar in entering the cells. For diabetics, the body does not make insulin or is unable to use the insulin it produces, causing high level blood sugar.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 8% of our population has diabetes. There are 17.9 million people diagnosed with diabetes today and 5.7 million (nearly ¼) people don’t know they have it. In 2007, 1.6 million new cases of diabetes was reported in people 20 years and older. As a result, more information than even before is available about types of diabetes and ways to prevent or control diabetes for a healthy future.

Types of Diabetes

Various categories within the group of diabetes diseases include Type 1, gestational and Type 2 diabetes.

  • Type 1 diabetes affects about five to ten percent of people with diabetes. For Type 1 diabetes, there is no known prevention or cure and people with this disease must take insulin. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy for some women and is carefully monitored by their treating physician.
  • Pregnant women with gestational diabetes will be given a special diet to follow by the doctor for the health of the woman and the baby. Although most women return to normal after having the baby, about half of those women develop Type 2 diabetes during their lifetime.
  • Type 2 diabetes affects around ninety to ninety-five percent of the diagnosed cases of diabetes and starts with insulin resistance, when the cells fail to properly use insulin. The need for insulin increases until the pancreas starts to lose its ability to produce it. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented and controlled.
  • Pre-diabetes occurs when a person's blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not at a dramatically increased level to be diagnosed as diabetes. Around 41 million people between the ages of 40 and 74 suffer from pre-diabetes and are at a risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, 2 million teens between 12 and 19 have pre-diabetes and the total people with pre-diabetes is 57 million. However, if pre-diabetes is detected in time, people can prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes from developing.

Risk of Getting Diabetes

Basically, all people are at some level of risk for getting Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is basically genetically defined. However, certain types of people are at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, such as:

  • People over 45 years old.
  • Those with a family history of diabetes.
  • People with impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose.
  • People who are overweight.
  • Women with a history of gestational diabetes.
  • Racial/ethnic groups such as African Americans, Hispanic Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
  • People who do not engage in exercise regularly.
  • Folks with high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol or high tryglycerides.

Extra weight and inactivity increases the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes. Christopher Saudek, M.D., the director of the Johns Hopkins Diabetes Center in Baltimore, states, “The increase in diabetic risk really takes off at about a body mass index of 27.” Body mass index is defined by measuring height and weight and 25 or above is overweight.

Diabetes is progressing at a rapid pace and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that one in three babies born in 2000 will develop diabetes someday. Michael T. Murray, N.D., says, “It's paralleling the rise we see in obesity. We used to think of fat cells as storage sites for excess calories. But they are metabolically and hormonally active. Genetics does play a role, but it is not the final answer.”

Preventing Diabetes

Since genetics isn't the final answer with regard to whether or not you will develop Type 2 diabetes, what is?

The Diabetes Prevention Program study was recently completed and found that people with pre-diabetes can prevent getting Type 2 diabetes by making dietary changes and increasing their physical activity. In fact, 30 minutes daily of moderate physical activity along with a reduction in body weight of 5 to 10 percent reduced diabetes by 58 percent.

To help prevent Type 2 diabetes, the National Diabetes Educational Program created a national awareness campaign showing that simple lifestyle changes and losing 5 to 7 percent of your body weight can prevent diabetes.

The president of the American Diabetes Association, Eugene J. Barrett, M.D., states that exercise doesn't mean you have to run in a marathon and that, "...little things like using a step counter and walking and parking farther from where you work can help."

Consider a few easy ways to step up your activity, improve your diet and help prevent diabetes:

  • Drink more water. Start by replacing your daily soda with water and you will drop a pound in a month.
  • Discuss exercise with your doctor and then start by walking 60 minutes, 5 times a week to drop a pound every week. Learn more about diabetes and exercise.
  • Eat smaller portions more frequently, having little meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism going and ward off hunger.
  • Avoid fried foods, creamy sauces and rich desserts to stay at a safe weight and avoid elevating your cholesterol level.
  • Cook more meals rather than eating fast food so you can control the portions and levels or fat and sugar. Don’t know what to cook? Find diabetes-friendly recipes.
  • Consider the basic food pyramid when planning meals and have a balanced representation of all the food groups in your daily diet.
  • Handle related health conditions by monitoring heart problems, quitting smoking, eliminating stress and lowering high blood pressure.
  • Monitor yourself and visit your doctor and dentist regular to check out your feet, teeth and other areas for telltale blisters that may be a sign of diabetes. Report changes to your dental health, eyesight or feet to your doctor immediately.
  • Brush and floss daily for optimum oral health because people with diabetes and pre-diabetes product less saliva, which can increase the possibility of tooth decay.
  • By eating well-balanced meals and exercising regularly, you can actually help to prevent diabetes for a longer, healthier future.

Marci Sloane, MS, RD, LD/N, CDE

Article was reviewed by Marci Sloane, a registered and licensed dietitian/nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. Marci graduated with a degree in Nutrition and Physiology from Teachers College at Columbia University. Marci manages a Diabetes and Nutrition Education Center in South Florida and is the author of The Diet Game: Playing for Life!

The goal of Destination Diabetes® is to be a useful and credible resource for the more than 20 million children and adults who have diabetes in the U.S. and their families. Destination Diabetes® provides information on a wide range of diabetes health and wellness topics. Articles are written or reviewed by diabetes advisors who have experience in diabetes education.