Pre-Diabetes: A Wakeup Call

— Written By Tracy Davis
en Español / em Português

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“One out of three American adults has pre-diabetes, and most of them do not know it”. This quote from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) should be a wakeup call to each of us.

Pre-diabetes is a blood glucose (sugar) level that is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. You can have pre-diabetes for years but have no clear symptoms, so it often goes undetected until serious health problems show up. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested if you have any of the risk factors for pre-diabetes. The risk factors include age 45 or older, overweight, family history of type 2 diabetes, low physical activity, or ever having gestational diabetes while pregnant. Race and ethnicity are also factors. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk.

Many people think that being overweight causes diabetes. Many people who have diabetes are not overweight and many overweight people never develop diabetes. While weight is certainly a risk factor, the type of fat in the body makes a difference. The “inch you can pinch” (subcutaneous fat) isn’t the most troubling kind. Hidden layers of fat around organs (visceral fat) are thought to drive up the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Normal-weight people who appear thin may look healthy, but can still have excess visceral fat that increases health risk. Consuming healthy foods and increasing physical activity is especially effective at reducing visceral fat.

As we grow older, we tend to be less active, but older adults are not the only ones not moving enough. Fewer than 3 out of 10 high school students get the recommended amount of physical activity.  People are developing type 2 diabetes younger than ever primarily due to unhealthy food choices and lack of activity. Not long ago, it was almost unheard of for young children or teens to get type 2 diabetes. Now, about one-third of American youth are overweight, which is directly related to the increase in kids who have type 2 diabetes.

Thirty percent of people with pre-diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years if there is not intervention. The term ‘pre-diabetes’ should be synonymous with ‘prevent-diabetes’. Think of pre-diabetes as a fork in the road. Ignore it, and your risk for type 2 diabetes goes up. Lose a modest amount of weight and get regular physical activity, and your risk goes down. Modest weight loss means 5% to 7% of body weight, just 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person. Regular physical activity means getting at least 150 minutes a week of brisk walking or similar activity. That’s 30 minutes a day, five days a week. By taking steps to eat healthier and move more, people with pre-diabetes can reduce their risk of developing diabetes.

There are many reliable sources of information about diabetes including the  American Diabetes Association, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Eat Smart Move More (ESMM) organization. Each of these offer a wide range of resources. ESMM provides newsletters, webinars, food guides, recipes, easy physical activities, and an annual holiday challenge. The CDC offers the National Diabetes Prevention Program along with a variety of helpful tips including this very timely resource – “Five Healthy Eating Tips for the Holidays”.