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How to Avoid Diabetes -- Landmark Results Unveiled

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Aug. 8, 2001 (Washington) -- Either a low-fat diet combined with moderate exercise or the drug metformin -- brand name Glucophage -- dramatically reduced type 2 diabetes risk among overweight people with elevated blood sugar, according to landmark study results released today by the National Institutes of Health, or NIH.

The findings are crucial for battling the nation's "surging epidemic" of type 2 diabetes, said Allen Spiegel, MD, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the NIH.

"For the first time, we know that type 2 diabetes can be prevented," said Christopher Saudek, MD, president of the American Diabetes Association. "It may be as simple a solution as getting up off the couch and eating a healthier diet."

"This really puts prevention on the map," said David Nathan, MD, a Harvard Medical School professor who led the $174-million government-sponsored study.

Indeed, the study found that the diet/exercise program cut diabetes risk by 58%. Glucophage was significantly less effective, but still decreased risk by 31%. Both approaches worked equally well among diverse ethnic and racial groups.

The diet/exercise changes worked especially well among people age 60 and older, whereas Glucophage worked best in younger and heavier individuals.

Type 2 diabetes, which represents the vast majority of diabetes cases, has tripled in prevalence over the last 30 years, largely due to a huge explosion in obesity. Since 1960, the percentage of Americans who are obese has roughly tripled.

More than 16 million Americans have diabetes; 8% of all Americans older than 20 have type 2 diabetes. The chronic disease is the nation's leading cause of kidney failure, blindness, and limb amputations. Blacks and Hispanics suffer an especially high rate of the disease.

According to Spiegel, some 10 million Americans would fit the health profile of the people in this diabetes study. The study's 3,234 participants were overweight, with an average body mass index of 34. They also had pronounced "impaired glucose tolerance," meaning a high but not yet diabetic blood sugar level.

The average age of patients in the study was 51, although ages ranged from 25 to 85. Close to 1,000 of the patients were randomly put on a low-fat diet and told to engage in moderate physical exercise, such as walking for 30 minutes.

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