Diabetes is a disease that affects thousands of men, women, and even children across the US. American Diabetes Association's Diabetes Alert Day (observed in March) and National Diabetes Awareness Month (every November) are two times of the year that we can shine a brighter light on the seriousness of diabetes, and encourage you to monitor your personal risk for this disease. Diabetes was first documented in 1552 BC by an Egyptian doctor, but it wasn't until 1916 that a scientist in Boston, Massachusetts began to widely circulate information about the disease. In the early 20th century, it was determined that a healthy diet and routine exercise were the biggest factors to reduce the risk of death in diabetes patients. Nowadays, physicians still use these principles when teaching people how to prevent or live with diabetes.
- Diabetes affects about 10.5% of the US population, and nearly 7.3 million people (out of roughly 34 million diabetic Americans), are unaware they even have the disease.
- Roughly 88 million people (18+ years) have prediabetes, but almost 85% of these people don't know they have it. Prediabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.
- About 50% of women that have gestational diabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is only developed when a woman is pregnant.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes
Both types are chronic and affect how your body regulates glucose (your blood sugar). Glucose is the fuel for the cells in your body, but can't enter the cells unless there is enough insulin.
People that have type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin, whereas people with type 2 don't respond to insulin as well as they should—and will often produce less insulin over time. Both types of diabetes can lead to dangerously high blood sugar levels that increase the risk of health complications.
In men and women with type 1, their immune system confuses healthy cells for invaders, destroying the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. After these beta cells are destroyed, the body is unable to produce insulin. Scientists don’t know why the immune system has this reaction but attribute it to genetic and environmental factors.
If someone has type 2, they're able to produce insulin but their body is unable to use it properly. Their pancreas will try to compensate by producing more insulin, which leads to glucose accumulating in the bloodstream. Researchers believe that a variety of lifestyle factors like being inactive and carrying excess weight in combination with genetic and environmental factors can play a role.
Best Ways to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
The chances of developing type 2 diabetes are dependent on a combination of factors. While you can’t change your family history, age, or ethnicity, you can change lifestyle habits.
Add more activity into your daily life.
At a minimum, try to have 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. YMCA group exercise classes are a great way to get your body moving while having fun, especially if you're not a fan of old-fashioned weightlifting at the gym. Remember, start slowly to build up to your goal—especially if you currently aren't very active.
When it comes to gestational diabetes in pregnant women, most of the time it will go away the baby is born. Even if gestational diabetes goes away, new mothers still have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes in the next 5–10 years. Children with type 2 diabetic mothers may be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life, also. This means that making healthy choices not only helps pregnant women and new mothers but will in turn help children, too.
Understanding Your Risk
The sooner you realize you’re at risk, the sooner you can take proper steps to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes. If you have a family history of, you're over age 45, and/or are overweight or are not physically active, we encourage you to take this quiz to determine your risk of diabetes.
For a variety of additional resources, we encourage you to check out the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website.