By Eva Dicocco, MD,
Special to the AFRO
More than 1 in 3 American adults, or roughly 96 million people, live with prediabetes. Within this group, 8 in 10 are unaware that they already have prediabetes.
Prediabetes is a serious, yet frequently undiagnosed health condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not quite high enough to be considered diabetes. This is often caused by family history, excess weight, unhealthy diet, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Having prediabetes can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or other diabetes-related conditions. Without symptoms, prediabetes can go undiagnosed for years, creating a health “timebomb.” Without treatment and preventive measures, about 70 percent of those with prediabetes will eventually develop diabetes.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted people’s routines and fostered unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles, which can lead to prediabetes. In fact, a study shows that 42% of U.S. adults gained an average of 29 pounds since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, eating habits have changed, with research showing that COVID-19-related stressors caused emotional overeating for many. Perhaps most importantly, 41 percent of adults missed routine doctor visits since the start of the pandemic, missing critical diabetes screening opportunities.
The good news? Even with a family history of diabetes, lifestyle changes can help prevent diabetes. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, prevention should start small and focus on realistic changes tailored for individual lifestyles.
Control Bodyweight: Controlling weight is critical to reducing risk. Evidence shows that overweight adults who lose 5-7 percent of their total body weight reduce chances of diabetes by 58 percent.
Increase Activity: Increase physical activity with simple activities like walking, swimming, dancing, or lifting weights. Aim for about 30 minute per day. Incorporate exercise into everyday activities such as cleaning, vacuuming, mowing the lawn, or gardening.
Eat Healthy: Simple diet changes can make a significant impact. Start by incorporating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy products, fish, lean meat, and healthy fats into meals. To build healthy habits for the whole family, try grocery shopping together, getting kids involved in cooking, and eating healthy meals around the table.
Early Detection: In reality, early detection saves lives. The US Preventive Services Task Force now recommends screening for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes in adults ages 35 to 70 who are overweight or obese. Talk with your doctor about your risk.
Making these lifestyle changes is not easy, especially on your own. Research shows that patients at risk for developing diabetes are more successful in improving their health when they participate in a program that provides education and support.
Kaiser Permanente offers a one-year CDC accredited Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) developed by physicians with years of experience caring for prediabetes patients. As part of the integrated health system, DPP has prevented, delayed, and even reversed prediabetes for our patients.
DPP participants receive practical training in long-term dietary changes and work with health coaches on increased physical activity, and behavior change strategies for weight control that help them cope with setbacks and get back to their plan. Additionally, participants experienced an average of 5-7 percent weight loss across both in-person and virtual classes.
Research spearheaded by the National Institutes of Health substantiates that the diabetes prevention program can help individuals at risk for diabetes avoid or delay the condition by losing a modest amount of weight through manageable lifestyle changes. Participants in the NIH study who followed what they learned reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. The program had lasting effects, with participants continuing to delay diabetes by 34 percent in the 10 years following the program.
You have the power to change your chances of developing diabetes by knowing your risk factors, living a healthy lifestyle, and working with your doctor. While adopting healthy habits can be challenging, you don’t have to do it alone. By seeking support through a doctor or DPP like the one at Kaiser Permanente, you can live a healthier, diabetes-free life.
Dr. Eva Dicocco is an adult and family medicine physician with Kaiser Permanente. She is physician lead for the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) and Weight Loss Management at Kaiser Permanente Diabetes Champion, Baltimore.
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