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Diabetes Prevention: What You Can Do


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently revealed that 40% of Americans will eventually develop type 2 diabetes. That means that out of every five Americans, two will end up with type 2 diabetes. This scary statistic is shocking, but not completely unexpected given our current unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical activity. It seems every decade the likelihood of developing this devastating disease continues to rise at an alarming rate. This gets even more disconcerting if you happen to be in a certain minority group -- specifically black females and all Hispanics -- as these individuals have an even higher risk of developing diabetes at 50%.

However, this unfortunate trend doesn't mean that you are doomed to get this life-altering chronic disease. While it is true that your genes play a role in your chance of getting type 2 diabetes, there are steps you can take with your lifestyle habits to help ward off this chronic disease. To help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and the serious complications associated with this disease, including kidney failure, neuropathy (nerve damage), eye damage, skin problems (dry itchiness, fungal infections, and bacterial infections), stroke, heart disease, hearing impairment, high blood pressure and a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease, check out the tips below.

Get Active

Staying physically active improves cardiovascular health and also helps with weight control. In fact, if you are overweight or obese, losing just 10% of your current body weight can slash your odds of getting diabetes in half. Physical inactivity increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, especially if it's in the form of television watching (for every two hours of TV-watching you rack up, you raise your diabetes risk by 20%). Setting a goal of getting a minimum of 30 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity (even brisk walking counts) a day will greatly reduce your risk, and the more you exercise, the more you cut the risk of diabetes development.

Get to a Healthy Weight

Aiming for a healthy weight can significantly reduce your risk of developing diabetes because those extra pounds are the biggest cause of type 2 diabetes. Having a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 is protective. If you're overweight (BMI of 25-29.9), you're seven times more likely to get diabetes, and if you're obese (BMI of 30 or higher), multiply that risk by 20-40 compared to a normal-weight individual. BMI does have some limitations (it's not accurate for really muscular or athletic individuals). Further studies may instead look more closely at waist circumference.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

Certain dietary measures can help decrease diabetes risk as well. Eat plenty of colorful fruits and veggies, always try to choose whole grains over refined-grain foods (diets rich in whole grains have been associated with diabetes prevention), cut out sugar-laden beverages, consume healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil, canola oil, fatty fish), and cut back on processed meats and red meats, which are linked to an increased diabetes risk.

Don't Smoke

Smoking doubles your risk of getting diabetes.

Get Quality Sleep

Aim for a solid night's sleep void of interruptions. Disrupting your body's "internal clock" with irregular sleep patterns, nocturnal lighting (put away those smartphones, people), and unusual meal or snack times can increase your risk for diabetes because of the effects on your hormones.

Several things you can't control: Your genes and your age (getting older increases the risk). Genetics do have a big influence on your likelihood of developing diabetes, but you can certainly take steps to affect those factors that you can control, because lifestyle choices have a larger impact. Need some more good news? Research has found that those who do develop diabetes are living longer lives, likely due to improved treatment options.


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Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children.

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