It's no secret our nation has a weight problem. The climbing rates of obesity and weight-related diseases are among the most frequently discussed topics by news media, health organizations, employers, schools and families. Despite its prominent position in national health conversations, as our nation's obesity epidemic has grown, so has the number of people with diabetes.
Diabetes doesn't happen overnight. A person with a diabetes diagnosis has exhibited warning signs for up to 10 years. This warning period before a diabetes diagnosis is known as called prediabetes - and an incredible 57 million people age 20 or older in the United States fall into this category.*
The main culprit for prediabetes is being overweight. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 65 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. Being obese increases the risk not only of diabetes, but also heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer.
Prediabetes means a person exhibits all the risk factors for developing diabetes: being overweight or obese, and exhibiting elevated blood glucose levels (between 100 and 125 mg/dl). If you are 45 years old or older, overweight and inactive, your doctor may recommend a test for prediabetes. Even if you are under 45, it's a good idea to be tested if you have other risk factors: low levels of HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure or a family history of diabetes, or you are a member of an ethnic or minority group with increased risk (African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic or Pacific Islander).
Historically, Type II diabetes has been an adult disease, but the fastest-growing group exhibiting signs of diabetes - and prediabetes - are children and teens. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008, and among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years, from 5 to 18.1 percent in the same time period.
The silver lining is a prediabetes diagnosis doesn't mean diabetes is inevitable; in fact, it can be a valuable wakeup call. By making changes in nutrition and lifestyle habits - even if you already are prediabetic - you can actually reverse the disease and put off developing full-blown diabetes - and in some cases, prevent diabetes entirely. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can delay or prevent the onset of diabetes, reducing your risk of developing diabetes by nearly 60 percent, according to the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
You can reduce your risk of diabetes with some simple lifestyle modifications:
Get a blood glucose test. If your blood glucose levels are in the normal range, you should be re-checked every three years. If you have prediabetes, get test for type 2 diabetes every one to two years after your diagnosis.
Lose weight. Just a modest amount of weight loss (5-10 percent of total body weight) can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by 60 to 70 percent, according to the DPP study.
Eat healthy. A nutritious diet will help with weight loss and other diabetes risk factors, such as high cholesterol. You may want to consult with a nutritionist who can help design a healthy eating plan with appropriate calorie and fat intake for your goals.
Exercise. If you're not already active, a modest amount of cardiovascular exercise - 30 minutes a day, five days a week - will reduce your risk.
Take heart. People with pre-diabetes have twice the risk of heart disease and stroke, so cardiovascular health is very important. If you smoke, quit. Lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise, and medication, if necessary, can help control high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Gerald Coats, M.D., is an Internal Medicine physician practicing with Northwest Allied Physicians.