Why preventing diabetes should be a priority at all ages

More than 96 million Americans live with a potentially life-altering condition – yet many of them are unaware they even have it.

That condition is prediabetes, which in up to 70 percent of cases develops into diabetes. Today, more than 37 million Americans already live with diabetes, which if left untreated can contribute to a host of health issues. In California, 9.9 percent of adults over age 18 have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Dr. Archana Dubey. Photo submitted

Diabetes alters the body’s ability to create energy from the food you eat and can develop in several forms. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce insulin on its own, typically due to genetic factors, and accounts for approximately 5 percent of all diabetes cases. Type 2 diabetes accounts for up to 95 percent of all cases and develops when the body can’t use the insulin it produces, typically due to inactivity and poor nutrition.

Taking steps to avoid or more effectively manage this condition should be a priority for people of all ages. For November’s American Diabetes Month, here is important information to consider. 

Diabetes in children: While type 1 diabetes was historically known as juvenile diabetes, that term is no longer truly applicable due to the surging prevalence of type 2 diabetes among children. Type 2 diabetes in children can lead to health issues in the short- and long-term, including depression, eating disorders, eye damage, heart disease and more.

To help young people reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, make activity a priority. Whenever possible, go for a 15-minute walk after meals, which can help the body move sugar from the blood into the muscle cells to help avoid blood sugar spikes.

Diabetes in adults: The number of adults with diabetes has more than doubled during the last two decades. Living with prediabetes, being overweight, not getting enough physical exercise and being over age 45 all put people at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

For working-age adults with this condition, it’s critical to consistently track blood sugar levels, ideally with a continuous glucose monitor. In fact, a growing number of health plans are starting to cover this type of technology, which uses a sensor, often worn on the abdomen, to continuously read glucose levels and transmit the data to a smartphone.

Diabetes in older adults: Nearly 30 percent of adults 65 and older live with diabetes, which increases the risk for certain cancers and cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Staying active and eating a balanced diet is crucial, including a focus on consuming healthy proteins (chicken, fish or turkey), non-starchy fibrous vegetables (broccoli, green beans or carrots) and a moderate amount of carbohydrates (brown rice, sweet potato and whole-grain breads or pasta). Interval eating may also be a strategy to consider, including waiting at least an hour after waking up to eat breakfast and avoiding food within three hours of sleep.

For many people, type 2 diabetes is largely preventable with lifestyle modifications, such as a nutritious diet, consistent exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. Understanding your risk factors and staying on top of your health – starting during childhood and as you age – may help you prevent or better manage type 2 diabetes.