Developing Type 2 diabetes is like getting dumped in a relationship (or a Coke machine falling over, as Jerry Seinfield once said about break-ups on the television show Seinfeld). Even if you are blind-sided when it occurs, it really doesn’t occur overnight. Instead, you may miss the many warning signs, until your doctor tells you the bad news (about diabetes, that is, and not about your relationship).
A major aim for World Diabetes Day, which is today, and Diabetes Awareness Month (which is this month, November) is to help “people learn their risk for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes along with steps to take to potentially reverse course,” as Heather Hodge, Director of Chronic Disease Prevention Programs at the YMCA-USA (also known as the Y-USA for short, in case you don’t have enough time to say the MCA) explained.
The lead up to type 2 diabetes can be missed at two different stages. The first is not properly addressing obesity or being overweight, which are major risk factors for type 2 diabetes. As the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery indicates, over 90% of those with type 2 diabetes are overweight or have obesity. Even modest weight loss (5% of body weight) can significantly reduce the risk of developing diabetes. With the global obesity epidemic continuing to spread and get worse as I described previously for Forbes (e.g., obesity rates among adults having nearly tripled in the U.S. from 1960 and 2010), more and more people are at risk for becoming diabetic.
The stage even closer to diabetes is developing prediabetes, a condition in which your blood sugar levels are elevated (your fasting blood glucose is in the 100 to 125 range, your 2-hour Plasma Glucose between 140–199 mg/dL, or your hemoglobin A1c is between 5.7 percent and 6.4 percent) but not yet high enough to be considered diabetes. It’s a bit like your significant other suddenly getting a major makeover or a whole new wardrobe, telling you that something is imminent without really telling you. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 84 million American adults (or over 1 in 3) have prediabetes, but 90% don’t even know they have it because they aren’t getting their blood sugar checked. People who are prediabetic usually do not have any symptoms. As Hodge explained, “Without intervention, 15-30 percent of people with prediabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes within the next five years. When you start to talk about the effect this has on quality of life and our communities, children and wallets, the need for Diabetes Awareness Month really becomes self-evident.” Here’s a CDC video on prediabetes:
The good news is that during the lead up or the pre-game show to diabetes, diabetes is not necessarily a fait accompli or a done deal. As the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) for example has shown, there are steps that you can take. The Y currently serves over 50,000 adults who are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and has over 1,100 locations in 47 states that offer the YMCA DPP. The Y website includes a quick test to determine your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. While this test doesn’t replace a doctor (no website can replace a doctor), the results may prompt you to see a doctor to get properly screened.
The DPP then is for those who are deemed at risk for type 2 diabetes and includes a series of classes and sessions aiming to help participants lose 5–7% of their body weight and gradually increase their physical activity up to 150 minutes per week. According to Hodge, the YMCA’s DPP has been quite successful in preventing diabetes, “To-date, nearly 56,000 people have participated in the YMCA’s DPP. These participants have lost an average of 4.6 percent body weight after completing the weekly sessions and 5.5 percent after completing the yearlong program.” Hodge added that the “YMCA’s DPP was certified by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in March 2016 as a proven low–cost community program that has been shown to prevent Type 2 diabetes in individuals at highest risk – those with prediabetes.” Here’s a video from HHS on the program:
So just like you want take appropriate actions before your significant other says “we need to talk”, you should do something about your risk factors for diabetes and prediabetes before your doctor tells you “we really need to talk.”