Diabetes is a growing health crisis in America. Nearly one in ten American adults—that’s 34.2 million individuals—now has diabetes, the highest rate on record, and another 88 million — one in three Americans—have prediabetes. “Perhaps most disturbing of all,” says Dr. Chelsea Gordner, an endocrinologist with Baystate Endocrinology, “is the fact that so many people aren’t even aware they have either condition.”
Gordner adds, “The cause for concern is very real as diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, the seventh leading cause of death in the country, and can result in serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and limb amputation. In addition, it’s one of the chronic conditions that increases the risk that a coronavirus infection will lead to severe illness, hospitalization or even death. Simply put, detection is key to preventing any of the potential negative outcomes of the disease.”
Are you at risk for prediabetes?
You’re at risk for developing prediabetes if you:
- Are overweight
- Are age 35 or older (based on new guidance in 2021)
- Have a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes
- Are physically active less than 3 times a week
- Have ever had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or given birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
- Are African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, or Alaska Native (some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are also at higher risk)
Experts urge earlier screenings for prediabetes
As recently as late August 2021, the United States Preventive Services Task Force revised its recommendation for screening for prediabetes in adults. The revised recommendation suggests people between the ages of 35 to 70 who are overweight or have obesity should be screened. The previous recommended age range was for people between 40 to 70 years of age.
Gordner notes, “Early detection is critical as the longer you have prediabetes, the greater the risk of developing complications. Screenings are relatively simple and if it reveals someone has prediabetes, they can then take steps to prevent the progression to type 2 diabetes.”
Take the American Diabetes Association 60-second risk test.
Prevention is possible
Type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors. While prevention may not be possible in every case there are steps you can take to delay or slow its progress. The key to it all is insulin.
According to Gordner, “Your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t effectively use the insulin it does make. The good news is you can actually exert some control over your insulin levels through lifestyle changes and habits and potentially delay or even prevent the onset of full-blown diabetes.”
Some of the most beneficial actions you can take include:
1. Eat healthy
A diet low in fat, sugar, and calories is key to managing blood sugar. The good news is you can find plenty of flavor and sweetness in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that can actually help you feel fuller longer and lead to weight loss without making you feel deprived.
It also helps to pay attention to the amount of sugar in the foods you eat. When choosing packaged foods, check the label for sugar levels and recommended serving sizes. Download this infographic to learn more about the hidden sugars in common foods.
If you struggle to figure out what to eat, ask your doctor or contact a registered dietitian for help creating an eating plan that works for you.
2. Get moving
Exercise can help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure and harmful cholesterol levels. It also lowers blood glucose (blood sugar) levels and boosts your body's sensitivity to insulin.
Aim for 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week—a simple walk will do—and avoid sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time. Try setting an alarm on your phone to prompt you to stand, stretch and move about every half hour.
3. Get a good night’s sleep
Getting too little sleep has the potential to undermine your other efforts to gain control of your insulin levels. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night can increase insulin resistance (raising your blood sugar level) and make you feel hungrier the next day. It can also increase the chances you’ll reach for unhealthy foods and make you feel less full after eating.
Lack of sleep can even raise your blood pressure, increase the risk of a heart attack, and increase your risk of depression and anxiety.
4. Kick the habit
People who smoke are 30-40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who don’t smoke. Smoking while you have diabetes makes it more difficult to manage insulin levels and opens you up to more serious health problems including heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, poor circulation, and more. For help quitting smoking, talk to your doctor and see these tips from the American Cancer Society.