By Eva Dicocco, MD
More than a third of American adults, or roughly 96 million people, live with prediabetes. Within this group, 8 in 10 are unaware that they already have prediabetes.
This is of essential importance to the Black community because a 2020 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found that African American adults are 60 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician.
In addition, non-Hispanic Blacks were twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to die from diabetes.
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, according to the National Institute of Health
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted people’s routines and fostered unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles, which can lead to prediabetes. In fact, an American Psychological Association 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. According to the NIH, 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.
Research spearheaded by the NIH 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.
Dr. Eva Dicocco is an adult and family medicine physician with Kaiser Permanente in Baltimore.