Diabetes Mellitus

 

Diabetes Risk Factors and Prevention


What causes diabetes?  Unfortunately, you won’t find the answer here.  In fact, you won’t find it anywhere; we just don’t know enough about diabetes yet to say for sure what causes it.  What we do know, however, is that a number of lifestyle, genetic, and other factors can increase the risk that a person will develop type 2 diabetes and that modifying these factors can reduce the risk of diabetes or its complications. Here is a table summarizing the primary risk factors for diabetes and the best techiniques available to help mitigate these factors. Below, each of these factors is discussed in detail.

Risk Factor Prevention
Obesity and Overweight Maintain a healthy diet and consistent exercise regimen.
Waist Size Similar to obesity – diet and exercise are key.
Inactive Lifestyle Add simple physical activities to your daily routine – walking, taking the stairs, etc.
Age As you get older, pay closer attention to other risk factors you may have, and see your doctor for diabetes testing.
Family History If you have close family with diabetes, pay careful attention to other risk factors, and keep regular check-ups with your doctor.
Ethnicity Similar to family history – pay careful attention to other risk factors.
Pre-Diabetes Minimize risk by controlling other risk factors.  See your doctor for close follow-up and repeat testing.
Gestational Diabetes / High Birth Weight Baby Minimize other risk factors.  See your doctor for close monitoring.
High Blood Pressure / Cholesterol Diet and exercise are the best way to treat these conditions.  See your doctor for regular monitoring, as medical treatment may be indicated


Obesity

  • Risk: Being overweight or obese is one of the strongest risk factors for diabetes.  In the realm of health care, this risk is quantified by the body mass index (BMI), which relates height to corresponding appropriate weight.  A BMI greater than 25 defines overweight status and increases the risk for diabetes.  Obesity is defined by a BMI over 30 and is highly correlated with diabetes. You can calculate your BMI here:

  • BMI Calculator

    Height: Feet Inches

    Weight: Pounds

    Your BMI:


    Interpret Your Results

    BMI Weight Status
    Below 18.5 Underweight
    18.5 – 24.9 Normal weight
    25 – 29.9 Overweight
    30 and above Obese

  • Prevention: Losing weight is one of the best ways to minimize your risk for diabetes.  If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, weight loss is associated with better glucose control and fewer complications.  Weight loss is a broad topic and is often a difficult goal to achieve.  In essence, the best weight loss strategy includes a balanced, healthy diet and regular physical activity.


Waist Size


Waist circumference is a fairly
accurate predictor of diabetes risk.
  • Risk: Individuals who carry a larger part of their weight in the waist and upper abdomen (the so-called “apple-shaped” figure) have a greater risk of developing diabetes than others with larger hips, buttocks, and thighs (“pear-shaped” figure).  Research shows that waistline may be a better predictor of diabetes risk.  For any given BMI (even in the normal range), a waist circumference larger than 40 inches (102 cm) in men or 35 inches (88 cm) in women is associated with a higher risk for diabetes.  In one research study, even men with waists larger than 34 inches were twice as likely to develop diabetes as men with smaller waist sizes.
  • Prevention: Tighten up the waist line by using the same weight loss strategies outlined above.  The lost weight will preferentially come from areas of highest fat deposit, so you should see your pant size coming down as the pounds come off.


Sedentary Lifestyle

  • Risk: While highly correlated with weight and waist circumference, a lifestyle lacking in adequate exercise is also an independent risk factor for diabetes.

    Any physical activity you can add
    during the day will reduce
    your risk for diabetes.
  • Prevention: The US Surgeon General recommends 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least 5 days per week.  However, if you aren’t currently accustomed to exercising, any amount of activity you can add to your daily routine will greatly improve your overall health and reduce your risk of diabetes and its complications.  If your job doesn’t keep you active, take frequent breaks to walk around the office.  Use the stairs instead of the elevator.  When you get home, grab your kids, your partner, or a friend (or take advantage of some alone time) and walk a few laps around the block.  As you build up your level of activity, you’ll start to realize the myriad of health benefits you’ve achieved.  Check out this list from the CDC of moderate and vigorous activities you can do at home, at work, or even at the grocery store.


Age

  • Risk: The risk for developing diabetes increases with advancing age.  A few years ago, the average age at which a person was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes was 60.  However, with recent trends of increasing inactivity and obesity in children, type 2 is being diagnosed in younger persons, and the average age of diagnosis may now be as low as 40.


           Age is a significant risk factor for diabetes
  • Prevention: If you know a way to prevent aging, please share with the rest of us!  Otherwise, your best bet is to acknowledge your increased risk for diabetes and pay careful attention to other risk factors you may have.  It’s never too late to start a proper diet and exercise program.  Also be sure to make frequent visits to your doctor for diabetes risk assessment and testing.


Family History and Ethnic Background

  • Risk: While no direct pattern if inheritance is recognized in most cases of diabetes, having a close relative with diabetes is a major risk factor.  This suggests that, rather than a single gene “causing” diabetes, a group of particular genes may make a person more susceptible to developing diabetes given the “right” circumstances (i.e. other risk factors).  Furthermore, while no ethnicity is immune from the diabetes epidemic, diabetes is more common among persons of African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, or Pacific Island heritage.
  • Prevention: You can’t change your genes (yet), but if you have a family history of diabetes or belong to a high-risk ethnic group, pay careful attention to other risk factors and do everything you can to keep your diabetes risk down.


Family History and Ethnic Background

  • Risk: While no direct pattern if inheritance is recognized in most cases of diabetes, having a close relative with diabetes is a major risk factor.  This suggests that, rather than a single gene “causing” diabetes, a group of particular genes may make a person more susceptible to developing diabetes given the “right” circumstances (i.e. other risk factors).  Furthermore, while no ethnicity is immune from the diabetes epidemic, diabetes is more common among persons of African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, or Pacific Island heritage.
  • Prevention: You can’t change your genes (yet), but if you have a family history of diabetes or belong to a high-risk ethnic group, be especially pay careful attention to other risk factors and do everything you can to keep your diabetes risk down.


Other Risk Factors


Having a baby over 9
pounds may mean you
are at higher risk for diabetes.
  • Risk: Some women will develop a transient form of diabetes during pregnancy called gestational diabetes.  This condition usually disappears after pregnancy, but these women have a higher risk of developing diabetes later in life.  Furthermore, gestational diabetes often causes increased birth weight of the baby, so even in women who were not formally diagnosed with gestational diabetes, having a baby weighing more than 9 pounds (4 kg) is a risk factor for later diabetes.
  • Prevention: Women with a history of gestational diabetes or higher birth weight babies should be especially careful of other risk factors and should see their doctor regularly for diabetes risk assessment and testing.

  • Risk: High blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels are also risk factors for diabetes.

  • Prevention: A balanced diet and consistent exercise program are highly effective in keeping blood pressure and cholesterol low.  See your doctor for regular monitoring.  He or she will recommend when supplemental medical therapy may be needed.

Read on to learn about the signs of diabetes and how it is diagnosed.

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