Understanding Prediabetes

Learn how simple lifestyle changes can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Three smiling women holding a variety of vegetables as they prepare the kind of meal that helps lower the risk of prediabetes.

Learn how simple lifestyle changes can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes

As COVID-19 spread across the country in 2020, preexisting conditions became a major topic of concern. It became evident that people with certain underlying conditions are more likely to develop serious complications. And some of those conditions — like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and chronic kidney disease — are themselves widespread.

Unfortunately, a condition linked to all four was already on the rise before the pandemic, though many people don’t know they’re affected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 88 million American adults — that’s more than one in three — have prediabetes, meaning their blood sugar is higher than normal but still below the diabetes threshold.

Prediabetes Risk Factors

Another CDC study showed that one in five adolescents age 12-18 and one in four young adults age 19-34 are living with prediabetes. Being overweight or obese can predispose a person to prediabetes, as can having gestational diabetes during pregnancy, having a relative with diabetes and being part of an ethnic group that’s at higher risk. 

Societal and environmental factors also play a role, says Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, medical director, Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute and a Scripps Clinic endocrinologist.

“A whole host of reasons surround this rise and it’s easy to play the blame game,” Dr. Tsimikas says. “Not everyone actually goes on to develop diabetes, but they’re at much higher risk.”

The Link Between Lifestyle Changes and Diabetes Prevention

Support and education can go a long way in slowing the development of type 2 diabetes or preventing it altogether, thus improving overall health. Prediabetic adults who participate in a structured lifestyle-change program, such as Scripps Diabetes Prevention Program, can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58%, according to the CDC. 

Kids and teens need support, too, as one in three children with prediabetes will develop diabetes at some point in their life. The CDC recommends that parents provide encouragement to eat healthy and incorporate physical activity into most days.

“The transition from prediabetes to diabetes can occur without the person even knowing,” Dr. Tsimikas says. “Blood sugars can very slowly rise over time, and we know that people on average live with type 2 diabetes six to seven years before they’re actually diagnosed.”

Early intervention and long-term change are key in slowing or preventing the escalation to type 2 diabetes. 

“The important thing is to make changes you actually enjoy, otherwise you’re not going to stick with them,” Dr. Tsimikas says. “There shouldn’t be one plan for everybody. It should be about understanding the concept and then applying that to what works for you as an individual, so you can retain those habits for life.”

Scripps Diabetes Prevention Program

Scripps makes every effort to help patients with prediabetes reverse course and lead healthier lives. Its year-long diabetes prevention program for at-risk adults focuses on making realistic, lasting changes that can drastically improve a person’s overall health. 

After a brief pause at the start of the pandemic, Scripps launched a virtual version of its Diabetes Prevention Program in which small cohorts meet online once a week for the first four months, then twice a month.

The structured program is research-based, effective and provides the support needed to make healthy habits that will last for life. Sessions focus on topics such as diet and exercise, managing stress, building a support system and overcoming barriers. Each participant is also paired with a lifestyle coach who will help them set and meet their goals.

“In the age of COVID-19, it’s great to keep yourself healthy,” says Kelly Barger, RDN, manager of clinical programs at Scripps. “Preexisting conditions can make recovery more challenging, and anything that helps keep blood sugars in control is going to help.”

Scripps’ program is part of the National Diabetes Prevention Program, led by the CDC. The program is considered a Medicare benefit for prediabetic patients, and a doctor’s referral is not required.

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.

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