Diabetes is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States. More than 90 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin dependent or adult-onset diabetes.
Complications of diabetes include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and many other problems, even impotence. Managing the disease can make all the difference in terms of complications, so it is important to be screened periodically for diabetes, especially if you are at high risk.
Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
Some of the risk factors are things you cannot change. But others are modifiable — meaning you can change them and reduce your chances of developing diabetes. Genetic risk factors include:
- Age — Most people develop type 2 diabetes after age 45.
- Family History — Type 2 diabetes can run in families.
- Race or Ethnicity — Diabetes is more prevalent among certain groups, especially Native Americans, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans.
- Gestational Diabetes — Women who have had this temporary form of diabetes while pregnant are at greater risk of developing diabetes later in life.
Risk Factors You Can Modify
A couch potato lifestyle is a modifiable risk factor for diabetes. Adequate aerobic exercise not only reduces risk, but is an important part of any diabetes management program. Perhaps as little as one vigorous exercise session per week may help prevent diabetes. Exercise seems to reduce risk even among those with multiple risk factors.
The largest single risk factor for diabetes is being overweight or obese. Four out of five people with type 2 diabetes are at least 20 percent overweight. The incidence of obesity has been steadily rising, and today, about 55 percent of Americans are overweight. More overweight people mean more diabetes in the future.
Doctors have always told us that eating lots of sugary foods does not cause diabetes. But a 1997 Harvard study indicates that a high-sugar, low-fiber diet increases diabetes risk. The study found that the people most likely to develop diabetes ate lots of highly processed and sugary foods, including white bread, white rice, mashed and fried potatoes, sweet breakfast cereals, colas and sugary drinks, and other sweets. A diet rich in whole grains and low in sweets substantially reduces risk of diabetes.
Time for a Change
Diabetes can knock five to 10 years off your life. If you can possibly prevent it by improving your eating habits, exercising and losing weight, doesn’t it make sense to get started on the road to a healthier lifestyle? But managing diabetes means you can prevent the complications and live a long and healthy life.