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Reducing Diabetes Risk

This information provides a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. The information is NOT a substitute for you visiting your doctor. However, as Medical Science is constantly changing and human error is always possible, the authors, editors, and publisher of this information do not warrant the accuracy or completeness of this information nor are they responsible for omissions or errors as a result of using this information.

Reducing Diabetes Risk

What is diabetes?
There are 2 types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not make a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps the body use sugar (also called glucose) for energy. People with type 2 diabetes either do not have enough insulin or their cells ignore the insulin they have. Nearly 95% of people with diabetes have type 2.

Am I at risk?
You are at higher risk for diabetes if it runs in your family, or if you are Native American, Hispanic American, African American or Pacific Islander. Gestational diabetes (diabetes you have during your pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby who weighs more than 9 pounds may also mean that you have a tendency to have diabetes. If you have such a tendency, the following risk factors make you more likely to develop high blood sugar and diabetes:

Obesity (being overweight)
Older than 45
Sedentary lifestyle (not exercising)
Unhealthy diet
By addressing these risk factors you can delay or prevent the development of diabetes.

What can I do to reduce my risk?
Talk to your doctor about your risk factors. Although you can't change all of them, you can make substantial changes to lower your risk of diabetes. The rest of this handout tells you about each risk factor and what you can do.

Obesity is the single most important risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Between 80% and 90% of people with diabetes are overweight -- that means they weigh at least 20% more than the ideal body weight for their height and build. To figure out if you're overweight, check the chart at the end of this handout and talk to your doctor. A healthy, low-fat diet and regular exercise can help you lose weight gradually and keep it off.

The risk for type 2 diabetes increases with age. Half of all people diagnosed with diabetes are over 55. Although you can't change your age, you can work on other risk factors if you are over 45 years of age.

Family history
Although you can't change your family history either, it is important for you and your doctor to know what "runs in the family." Having 1 relative with diabetes doubles your chances of having it, and having 2 relatives with diabetes quadruples your chances. Tell your doctor if anyone in your family has diabetes.

Race/ethnic background
Some ethnic groups have a higher risk of diabetes than others. You are at greater risk if you belong to one of these groups:

Native American
Hispanic American
African American
Pacific Islander
Compared with Caucasians, African Americans are twice as likely to have type 2 diabetes, Hispanic Americans are 2 1/2 to 3 times more likely and Native Americans are 5 times more likely.

Exercising and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of diabetes. Any amount of activity is better than none, but try to exercise 4 to 6 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes each time. If you haven't exercised for a while or you have health problems, talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

A diet high in fat, calories and cholesterol increases your risk of diabetes. In addition, a poor diet can lead to obesity (another risk factor for diabetes) and other health problems. A healthy diet is high in fiber and low in fat. Also, remember to watch your portion size -- how much you eat is just as important as what you eat.

Gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that happens only during pregnancy. It occurs in about 3% of pregnant women. Although gestational diabetes goes away after pregnancy, about 40% of women who had gestational diabetes are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes within 15 years.
Even if they don't have gestational diabetes, women who give birth to babies weighing 9 pounds or more are more likely to have type 2 diabetes later in life.

Multiple risk factors
The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with the number of risk factors you have. If you have 2 or more risk factors, talk to your doctor about how to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.

Weight and Risk
Find your height in the left column, then look to the right to find the corresponding weight. If you weigh the amount shown (or more), you may be at risk for diabetes.
Weight (pounds)**
Height Women Men
*  Without shoes
**  Based on Ideal weight of person with medium build
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Last modified October 2015