You’ve heard it before: One of the gravest threats obesity poses to a person’s health is raising their risk of type 2 diabetes. Unlike type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas does not produce insulin, type 2 (or adult-onset) diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels remain too high because cells are no longer sensitive to insulin or the pancreas has exhausted its ability to produce enough insulin.
The disease has reached epidemic status. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 21 million Americans have diabetes, of which 6 million are unaware of their condition. Another 41 million have prediabetes, a condition in which glucose levels are elevated but still below diabetic levels.
Every overweight person is at risk of having prediabetes, says Vanessa Rein, MD, of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s Rodebaugh Diabetes Center.
Diabetes, especially when it is not controlled, can cause blindness, impotence, loss of a limb, heart attack and stroke; it’s now the country’s sixth leading cause of death, according to the CDC.
If you’re losing weight, you’re already following the number one course for prevention. Follow these tips to help reduce your risk.
Get screened regularly.
Early detection—especially of prediabetes—is critical. The CDC recommends that individuals over age 45 get a blood test every three years. “You should get screened earlier and more frequently if you have other risk factors and are overweight,” says Rein.
A family history of diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are red flags. And people with prediabetes should be screened every year, she adds.
Also, be on the lookout for symptoms including increased thirst, hunger, nighttime urination, fatigue and blurred vision. If any of these are a concern, schedule an appointment with your doctor and be sure to tell him or her what symptoms you’re having.
Maintain a healthy weight.
While research has implicated the high-fat Western diet that’s heavy in refined carbohydrates, “no specific food has been specifically linked to the development of diabetes,” says Leonid Poretsky, MD, co-director of the Diabetes Institute at Beth Israel Hospital in New York. “When it comes to eating, it’s not so much what you eat, even in terms of carbohydrates, but how much you change your total caloric intake” if you need to lose weight explains Poretsky Obesity is a major risk factor. Fortunately, losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can significantly decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. So start today; there’s no time like the present.