Healthy Changes Can Prevent Diabetes

Most Type 2 Diabetes Could Be Preventable in Adults

Medically Reviewed by Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC on April 27, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

April 27, 2009 -- Nine out of 10 new type 2 diabetes cases in older adults could be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes, according to a new study.

The results show a combination of five lifestyle factors -- physical activity, diet, smoking habits, alcohol use, and body fat -- accounted for 90% of new diabetes cases in men and women 65 and older.
Most recent research has focused on diabetes prevention in young people, but researchers say the results suggest that even modest healthy lifestyle changes later in life can make a big difference in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

For example, a single change such as becoming physically active or limiting alcohol use could have a significant impact. Overall, the study showed people in the low-risk category for each lifestyle factor had a 35% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and affects about 24 million Americans. It occurs when the body no longer is able to properly respond to and produce insulin, which causes blood sugar levels to rise.

Diabetes: A Lifestyle Disease?

The findings highlight that type 2 diabetes really is a lifestyle disease and is largely preventable, researcher Dariush Mozaffarian, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, says in a news release.

Previous studies have linked these lifestyle factors individually to diabetes prevention in certain people, but researchers say this study quantifies the effect of several lifestyle factors on diabetes prevention in a large group of older men and women.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, followed 4,883 men and women 65 and older for 10 years. During the follow-up period, 337 new cases of type 2 diabetes were diagnosed.

Participants were divided into low- and high-risk groups within each of the five lifestyle factor categories: physical activity, diet, alcohol use, smoking habits, and body fat.

After adjusting for age, sex, race, education level, and annual income, researchers found each of the lifestyle factors examined was independently associated with diabetes prevention. For example:

  • Physically active people (about one in four adults) had a 46% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • People in the low-risk groups for all five lifestyle factors had an 89% lower risk of diabetes.

Low-risk groups among the lifestyle factors were defined as:

  • Physical activity: Above average physical activity level (walking regularly and engaging in leisure activities)
  • Diet: High-fiber, low saturated fat, low trans fat, low sugar
  • Alcohol: Light or moderate alcohol use (up to two drinks per day)
  • Smoking: Nonsmoker
  • Body fat: Body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height) of less than 25 and a waist circumference of 34.6 inches or less for women and 36 inches or less for men
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Mozaffarian, D. Archives of Internal Medicine,  April 27, 2009; vol 169: pp 798-807.

News release, American Medical Association.

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