Understanding Diabetes

Are you at Risk of Type 2 Diabetes?

Who is at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

Based on what we know about type 2 diabetes in the general population, the following factors suggest a higher risk of type 2 diabetes in later life.

  • ethnic origin - South Asian descent
  • immediate family member with type 2 diabetes (mother, father, brother or sister)
  • a history of gestational diabetes (diabetes developing for the first time during pregnancy)
  • sedentary lifestyle - inactive and exercise less than twice a week
  • overweight individuals
  • high blood pressure (greater than 140/90 mm/Hg)

The American Diabetes Association has an online risk calculator which may be used to calculate your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This may be accessed at

Can type 2 diabetes be prevented?

Whether diabetes mellitus is preventable has been a vexed question for many years. In recent years, two major studies have shown reasons for optimism.

The Diabetes Prevention Program was a large American study of over 3,000 people at high risk for diabetes. The results showed that diet and exercise which yielded a 5-7% weight loss can delay and even prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

People who participated in this research study were overweight and had higher than normal levels of blood glucose, though not diabetes. This is referred to as 'pre-diabetes' in the United States (impaired glucose tolerance). Pre-diabetes and obesity are considered strong risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Because of the high risk among some minority groups, about half of the participants were from ethnic minorities.

The study tested the effects of lifestyle changes (healthy diet and exercise), and the influence of the diabetes drug metformin. The results showed that the group of people who changed their lifestyle, reduced their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. People who took metformin reduced their risk by 31 percent.

How do I reduce my risk of diabetes?

If you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, do not despair as there is a lot you can do to reduce your overall risk. The following point summarise the major lifestyle changes you should try to make

  • regular aerobic exercise
  • reduce your intake of fat as well as your total caloric intake
  • ask your doctor or a dietician to advise you on your ideal body weight. If overweight, attempt to lose weight to this level and maintain you ideal weight.
  • or cycle to work; when at work take the stairs rather than use the lifts.
  • improve your general health by keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure normal.
  • avoid smoking.

More on body weight and risk of diabetes

Being overweight is a very strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Use our online Body Mass Index calculator to assess your current body weight. 4 in every 5 people who have diabetes are overweight.

What is pre-diabetes?

Pre-diabetes is a term in vogue in the United States, but is not in common usage here in the UK. It means that you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes (and heart disease). Recent evidence which suggests that you can reduce your risk of getting type 2 diabetes by modest weight loss and physical exercise has lead to the 'labelling' of certain people at risk as having 'pre-diabetes'.

Tips for increasing your physical activity:

  • walk or cycle to work if at all possible
  • take the stairs rather than use the lifts at work
  • keep a record of your physical activity. If you are in a sedentary job, you will be surprised at how little exertion you have through an average day!


Dr Nishan Wijenaike, Consultant Physician
West Suffolk Hospitals Diabetes Service
Revised: October October 2007