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Am I at risk and can I do anything about it?

Your chances of developing diabetes depends on a variety of factors including your genes, your lifestyle habits and some environmental factors. These risk factors differ significantly for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Scientists believe that there are no ‘modifiable’ risk factors for Type 1 diabetes, meaning that there is nothing that can be done to prevent the condition which accounts for around 10% of all diagnosed diabetes cases.

But the story is different for Type 2 diabetes where lifestyle habits are considered to be key ‘modifiable’ risk factor. It’s been suggested that around three in five cases of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and being active.1

So if you have found out you’re at risk of developing Type 2 the important thing to do now is take action to lower your risk, where possible. You can do this by making some changes to your lifestyle and work towards developing healthier habits.2

Create healthy habits

Spending less time sitting down and being more physically active offers a variety of health benefits. These benefits are not just physical. Other mental wellbeing benefits like improved sleep, stress management, and quality of life have all been associated with increased physical activity.3 Studies have shown that exercise together with dietary changes have been effective in preventing the onset of Type 2 diabetes in high risk individuals.4

Whether you are at risk of Type 2 diabetes or not, eating well is important. What you choose to eat or drink influences how well you feel and how much energy you have every day. The good news is that by looking at your food choices and making small changes to your eating habits you can make a big difference and take those first steps toward reducing your risk.

Lose weight if necessary

Both Type 2 diabetes and obesity are strongly associated with an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.5 But it is important to note that not everyone with Type 2 diabetes is necessarily overweight.6

However, research indicates that there is a threefold increase in risk for overweight people in developing Type 2 diabetes compared to those with a healthy weight.7 The likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes is closely linked with body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. It is known that body fat distribution plays an important role and may indicate increased risk.5

There are certainly other risk factors that have been identified which appear to play a role in developing Type 2 diabetes, but many of these are things that you can’t necessarily modify. Advancing age or your genes, for example, are not something any of us have any control over. But managing our weight and adopting healthier habits is something which we can all strive for.1

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  1. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. Knowler WC, Barrett-Connor E, Fowler SE, Hamman RF, Lachin JM, Walker EA, Nathan DM, Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. N Engl J Med. 2002 Feb 7; 346(6):393-403.
  2. Edwardson et al. Detection and early lifestyle intervention in those at risk of Type 2 diabetes. EMJ Diabet. 2014;2:48-57.
  3. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/541233/Physical_activity_infographic.PDF [accessed 27.11.2017]
  4. Orozco LJ, Buchleitner AM, Gimenez-Perez G, et al. Exercise or exercise and diet for preventing type 2 diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008(3):CD003054. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003054.pub3.
  5. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/338934/Adult_obesity_and_type_2_diabetes_.pdf [accessed 27.11.2017]
  6. Eckel RH, Kahn SE, Ferrannini E, et al. Obesity and type 2 diabetes: what can be unified and what needs to be individualized? Diabetes Care 2011;34(6):1424-30. doi: 10.2337/dc11-0447. Epub 2011 May 20.
  7. Abdullah A, Peeters A, de Courten M, et al. The magnitude of association between overweight and obesity and the risk of diabetes: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Diabetes Research & Clinical Practice 2010;89(3):309-19.