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How to Stop Diabetes In Its Tracks

WebMD Health News

Feb. 6, 2002 (Washington) -- In a landmark study, 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.

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.

The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, originally released the results of this study last August due to their importance. The study is now published in the Feb. 7 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

"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 frequency 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 lifelong 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 significantly overweight. They also had pronounced "impaired glucose tolerance," meaning a high but not yet diabetic blood sugar level.

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