American Diabetes Month: Can type 2 diabetes be prevented? Experts say it may be possible to do so or delay it
They recommend making lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, opting for a healthy diet, and losing weight if a person is overweight
Diabetes can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, and eye and foot problems. Prediabetes can also cause health issues. The good news is that type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, can be delayed or even prevented. The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely he or she to develop complications, so delaying diabetes by even a few years will benefit one’s health, say experts.
Before developing type 2 diabetes, many people have prediabetes. This happens when their blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough yet for a diabetes diagnosis. But prediabetes can be reversed. Many of the same factors that raise the chance of developing type 2 diabetes also put a person at risk for prediabetes. So how can you lower your chances of developing type 2 diabetes? According to experts, changing one’s lifestyle could be a big step toward diabetes prevention — and it is never too late to start.
Stay physically active most days of the week: Being overweight raises your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), which is part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), suggests that a person may be able to prevent or delay diabetes by losing 5 to 7% of their starting weight. For instance, if you weigh 200 pounds, your goal would be to lose about 10 to 14 pounds. With the starting point in mind, experts call for setting a realistic weight loss goal within a timeframe that works for you. Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week is another recommendation. Taking small steps, and not letting setbacks throw you off course, are helpful.
Eat healthy and cutting back on calories: Making healthy food choices, eating smaller portions to reduce the number of calories one eats daily, and choosing foods with less fat are advised by experts. Getting plenty of fiber is beneficial for gut health and weight management. Fiber may help reduce your risk of diabetes by improving your blood sugar control and promote weight loss by helping a person feel full. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and nuts. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding sweetened beverages is a healthy alternative. Find more details here and here.
Researchers say that making a nutrition plan for healthier eating is helpful. “Your plan only needs two key ingredients to work: it should be based on healthy eating, and it should be something you can keep doing. People often need to try different things to create a plan that works for them. Some may cut back on sugar and eat more protein to stay fuller longer. Others may focus on crowding out unhealthy food with extra fruits and vegetables. Still, others take the guesswork and temptation out of life by sticking to just a few breakfast and lunch choices that they know are nutritious. The details will depend on what you like and what fits in best with your life,” they explain.
Consider a lifestyle change program: Your doctor could help you create a plan and set goals that work for you. If you have prediabetes, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends joining a lifestyle change program offered by the National Diabetes Prevention Program. This program is proven to cut the risk for type 2 diabetes in half, it says. People who join this program work with a trained lifestyle coach, who help them take small, manageable steps that fit in their schedule and their life. According to the agency, it helps people discover how to eat healthy and add more physical activity into their day, besides assisting them in learning how to manage stress, stay motivated, and solve problems that can slow progress.
“You’ll get a full year of support and learn how to eat healthily, add physical activity to your routine, manage stress, stay motivated, and solve problems that can get in the way of your goals. This program is proven to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Participants who lost 5-7% of their body weight and added 150 minutes of exercise per week cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 58% (71% for people over 60 years old),” explains the CDC. You can learn more about the program here, and find a class near you or online.
Prevention tips for parents: Not long ago, it was almost unheard of for young children or teenagers to get type 2 diabetes. Now, about one-third of American youth are overweight, which is directly related to the increase in kids who have type 2 diabetes, some as young as 10 years old, warn scientists. People who are overweight — especially if they have excess belly fat — are more likely to have insulin resistance, kids included. Insulin resistance is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
The CDC emphasizes that parents can do a lot to help their kids prevent type 2 diabetes. Healthy changes such as drinking more water and fewer sugary drinks, consuming more fruits and vegetables, serving small portions, making favorite foods healthier, and getting children involved in making healthier meals are recommendations. Experts also advise physical activities for children. Aiming for the child to get 60 minutes of physical activity a day, in several 10- or 15-minute sessions or all at once, taking parent and kid fitness classes together, planning active outings such as hiking or biking, are some suggestions. For more tips on how to help children maintain a healthy weight, you can check here. Details on how much physical activity children need can be found here.