Nearly 26 million Americans (8 percent of the population) have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An additional 79 million have prediabetes – a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Prediabetes increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
An estimated 285 million people worldwide have diabetes, according to the International Diabetes Federation. The federation predicts as many as 438 million will have diabetes by 2030.
Diabetes has serious complications:
Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about 2 to 4 times higher than adults without diabetes.
The risk for stroke is 2 to 4 times higher among people with diabetes.
More than two-thirds of adults with diabetes have high blood pressure.
Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20–74 years.
Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure.
About 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage.
More than 60 percent of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations occur in people with diabetes.
Diabetes is increasing rapidly and is now the sixth leading cause of death in America. It is projected that 1 out of 3 people born today will develop diabetes in their lifetime. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, these simple steps will lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
1. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Excess body weight is the major cause of type 2 diabetes. It increases the body's resistance to insulin. If you lose excess weight, even 10 to 15 pounds, you can significantly cut your risk of diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program showed that losing only 5 to 7 percent of excess body weight significantly dropped the risk of type 2 diabetes.
2. Get regular physical activity. Exercise helps the body use insulin more effectively. Thus exercise lowers insulin resistance and your risk of type 2 diabetes. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity such as brisk walking most days of the week, preferably daily.
3. Avoid smoking. Smoking increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In Harvard's Health Professional Follow-up Study, men who smoked were 92 percent more likely to develop diabetes.
4. Choose healthy fats. Eating saturated (i.e., animal) fats and trans fats increases one's risk for diabetes. Instead, choose healthy fats such as vegetable oils (e.g., canola, olive, and soy), trans fat-free margarines, nuts, and trans fat-free baked goods. Read food labels to see what kind of fats are included and avoid foods with partially hydrogenated ingredients.
5. Choose unrefined carbohydrates that are high in fiber and have a low glycemic index (GI). Low GI foods are carbohydrates that are absorbed slowly, and therefore help keep blood sugar levels low. Examples of low GI foods include whole grains, most vegetables (except white potatoes), most whole fruits, legumes, nuts, and milk or soymilk.
Everyone over the age of 40 should have their blood sugar level checked regularly; sooner if you are at high risk for diabetes or are experiencing symptoms. If you don't know your blood sugar level, ask your doctor to check it.
Sources: National Diabetes Database Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Diabetes: Simple steps to preventing diabetes. Harvard School of Public Health.