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Diabetes: If It Can’t Be Prevented, It May Be Delayed

By Dr. Derek Robinson, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

When it comes to diabetes, small changes in your diet and lifestyle can have a big payoff. In fact, they may be able to help you prevent the disease or delay its onset. How?

Many people don't know they have prediabetes. With prediabetes, blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diabetes.

Here's the good news: Prediabetes can be reversed.

A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that millions of high-risk people can delay or avoid developing Type 2 diabetes. The study — called the Diabetes Prevention Program — revealed losing weight with regular physical activity and a diet low in fat calories can turn the tide.

According to the NIH, the three major causes of Type 2 diabetes are often within our control. They include:

  • Excess weight
  • Physical inactivity
  • Poor sleep

Diabetes Basics

When we eat, most of our food is turned into glucose (sugar) that the body uses as energy. With diabetes, blood sugar is too high. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, moves the sugar into our cells.

For a person with diabetes, the body doesn't make enough insulin — or can’t use the insulin it does make. Sugar builds up in the blood. Over time, this can lead to heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke, blindness and other serious health conditions.

Types of Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2.

With Type 1 diabetes, the body does not make any insulin. People with Type 1 diabetes need to take insulin each day.

With Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use it well. This is the most common form of diabetes and the type that may benefit from lifestyle changes.

Simple Ways to Fight Diabetes

Adding more physical activity to your day and eating better aren’t new messages. Still, how do you really make it happen? It may be easier than you think. Start with these small steps. Healthy actions do add up!

  1. When possible, use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
  2. Walk in place while watching TV.
  3. When you run errands, park farther away or get off the bus a stop earlier.
  4. Eat an orange instead of drinking orange juice.
  5. Drink plain water instead of juice, soda, flavored water or diet drinks.
  6. Cut down your salt. Use spices to add flavor when cooking.
  7. Never grocery shop on an empty stomach.
  8. If you need to snack between meals, choose whole foods like grains, fruits and veggies. Even popcorn without the salt can satisfy hunger pains.

Delaying diabetes is the first step to preventing diabetes. Along with making healthy changes, talk with your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested. Be sure to let your care provider know if you have a family history of diabetes. 

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you know how diabetes management can be complex and challenging. Watch this video where I discuss diabetes care plans.

Sources: Diabetes Prevention Program, National Institutes of Health, 2022; Diabetes Overview, American Diabetes Association, 2023; Prediabetes - Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022; The Surprising Truth About Prediabetes, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022

The above material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician. Physicians and other health care providers are encouraged to use their own best medical judgment based upon all available information and the condition of the patient in determining the best course of treatment.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association