Prevalence of Prediabetes and your Power to Prevent It 

St. Luke’s Hospital

You may consider yourself lucky if you’re not among the 9 percent of Americans who have diabetes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are in the clear. An estimated 1 in 3 people have prediabetes.

Health efforts have often focused on preventing diabetes, but we now know that even being prediabetic—a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as full-blown diabetes—puts one at risk for serious health complications associated with diabetes like heart disease, stroke and microvascular diseases. Without making changes to improve their health, 15 to 30 percent of prediabetics will go on to develop diabetes within five years.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not make enough insulin—a hormone produced by the pancreas—or it does not respond to insulin properly to control glucose (sugar) that the body gets from food. As a result, glucose levels in the blood build up and remain high. Over time, high blood sugar can cause damage to nerves, organs and blood vessels. More than 29 million Americans have diabetes and nearly 86 million have prediabetes.

Three things you can do now

While there are some risk factors that you cannot control, like family history or race, research shows that simple lifestyle changes, including weight loss, regular exercise and dietary improvements, are the best ways to prevent diabetes and even prediabetes, and even small changes help.

Maintain a healthy weight. Even moderate weight loss can make a difference. Being overweight or obese is an important modifiable risk factor for developing diabetes. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of one’s body weight can make a difference.

Weight loss tips:

  • Be realistic. Start with a goal of losing 5 percent of your body weight.
  • Get on the scale at least once a week. If you are trying to lose weight, this gives useful feedback to let you know if your weight loss efforts are working or if you need to re-evaluate the changes you are making.
  • Manage your expectations. Losing weight little by little is fine and is the key to sustained weight loss.
  • Think of weight loss as a marathon, not a sprint to a finish line. Most people are going to eat poorly now and then; the key is to make it the exception, not the rule.
  • Get moving: Even short periods of exercise can be of benefit. The American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise per week. This may seem daunting to some people, especially to those who do not exercise at all, but even short periods of exercise have been shown to have health benefits. If you don’t have time for 45 minutes of exercise, start with 10 minutes. It is important to get moving and to make exercise a habit.
  • Improve your diet: Make dietary changes that work for you. There is no one-size-fits-all for what is the best diet. While some foods are certainly healthier than others, calories and portion size matter. Just switching from whole wheat to white pasta, for example, won’t help as much if you are eating large quantities.

Other dietary guidelines:

  • Choose whole-grain foods.
  • Eat a rainbow of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.
  • Pick powerful proteins, such as low-fat or lean protein sources like lean meat, poultry, fish and shellfish; low-fat or nonfat dairy; soy foods; eggs; nuts and seeds; dried beans, legumes, peas and lentils.
  • Choose healthy fats. Opt for more polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and omega-3 fats than saturated and trans fats.
  • Avoid sugary drinks.

Karen Chang-Chen, MD, specializes in endocrinology with Endocrine Associates at St. Luke’s Hospital. She treats a variety of endocrine conditions including diabetes, thyroid disease, osteoporosis, adrenal and pituitary disorders, as well as polycystic ovarian syndrome. She works individually with patients to balance the medication needed to treat conditions, with lifestyle and preventative wellness measures they can take to see results in their daily life. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Chang-Chen, call 636.685.7744 or visit