How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes


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Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a chronic condition characterized by your body being unable to use insulin properly. While there are factors you can control to decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, it cannot always be fully prevented. 

Some people do not make enough insulin to control blood sugar levels effectively. Other people make insulin, but the body does not use it effectively (called insulin resistance). This can lead to high levels of glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream that can cause serious long-term health consequences, including damage to important body parts like your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in the United States (US). About 1 in 10 people in the US have diabetes, and between 90-95% of them have type 2. Factors such as eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, exercising, checking your blood sugar levels, and other behaviors can reduce or delay your risk of developing T2D.

This article discusses type 2 diabetes, who is most at risk, how genetics may affect your risk, how you can reduce your risk, and what to discuss with your healthcare provider. 

Who Is Most at Risk

While you can develop diabetes at any age, it is most common in adults aged 45 and older. Type 1 diabetes is believed to be caused when the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of your body. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is normally a result of insulin resistance—the cells of the body not using insulin effectively.

Other risk factors for T2D include:

  • Family members with diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of physical activity, also called a sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood pressure
  • Being diagnosed with prediabetes
  • Having gestational diabetes while pregnant
  • People assigned male at birth are diagnosed slightly more than people assigned female at birth

Some people find out they have diabetes because they develop symptoms and are tested by a healthcare provider. Other people can live for a long time with minimal or mild symptoms and may not even know they have diabetes. In fact, it is estimated that almost half of the people with diabetes have not yet been diagnosed. Unfortunately, diabetes can cause damage to your body, even if you feel fine.


If you have a close relative (like a sibling, parent, or child) with diabetes, you have a 5-10 times higher chance of being diagnosed yourself at some point during your life. However, not all people with a family history of diabetes will develop the disease. Working on the risk factors you can address (including blood pressure, diet, and physical activity) may help decrease your overall risk.

There is not currently a specific genetic test that can tell you if you may be predisposed to developing diabetes. Let your healthcare provider know about any health or medical conditions that run in your family. If you develop symptoms of T2D, be sure to speak with your healthcare team right away.

How to Reduce Risk 

Some of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes are things you can address, which are called modifiable risk factors. Small changes can have a big impact on your health. Be sure to speak with your provider if you need support or more information about any lifestyle changes, medications, or other recommended treatments.


There are no specific tests or screening tools to know if you will develop diabetes. But, your healthcare provider may recommend regular blood tests which may help diagnose diabetes if you have it. Typically your random blood glucose will give a snapshot of your blood sugar level at one point in time. Fasting blood sugar levels are typically measured first thing in the morning; this test shows your blood sugar at a single point in time on a specific day. Hemoglobin A1C is a blood test that shows the trend of your blood sugar levels over a period of about 3 months.

These are simple blood tests that can be done in an office or lab. You may experience some local pain while the vein is accessed, and some people have some mild bruising for a few days. 

Lifestyle Habits

Changing your lifestyle habits may delay or prevent the development of diabetes. More research is needed to understand how all these factors work. Current recommendations include:

  • Managing your weight: A 7% weight loss has been significantly associated with reduced disease risk. Although, you should always discuss making drastic weight changes with your healthcare provider so they can help you decide if you should and, if so, how.
  • Monitoring your diet: Eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods like vegetables and lean proteins can help you keep your blood sugar level in the healthy range.
  • Engage in moderate-intensity exercise: Exercise for at least 150 minutes per week with activities such as brisk walking, biking, dancing, and weight training, among others.

While these habits were first studied in 2002, a more recent meta-analysis looked at multiple studies over several years and found that these same lifestyle changes result in a 47% decrease in the risk of developing T2D. 

Your provider can help and support you in changing your lifestyle. You may benefit from diabetes education, working with a registered dietitian, or joining an exercise program. If you have limitations affecting your diet or activity levels, speak with your healthcare provider about ways to modify your lifestyle to reduce your diabetes risk. Future research will address how these habits can be incorporated to adapt to various abilities and circumstances.  

Taking Medications

There are not a lot of medications that prevent people from developing type 2 diabetes. Metformin is a medication used to delay the onset of T2D. However, if you are prediabetic or have T2D, your provider may prescribe medications to help manage your blood sugar levels. 

Be sure you understand how to check your blood sugar and take your medications. Abnormal blood sugars can cause serious complications and other health issues.

There are both oral and injectable medications that are used to treat type 2 diabetes. Your provider will consider your health situation and prescribe medications if needed. Some people need to try different medications or different combinations of medications to achieve their goal blood sugar levels. Be sure to notify your healthcare team of any side effects, problems with blood sugar levels, or concerns about your treatment plan. 

Discuss With Your Healthcare Provider

The most common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Going to the bathroom a lot (frequent urination)
  • Being consistently thirsty
  • Blurry vision

Talk to your healthcare provider about any symptoms of diabetes you experience or any concerns you have about developing diabetes. 

Be sure to speak with your provider about any major lifestyle or medical changes you want to make before you start them. 

Problems With Medications?

If you experience any problems with your medications, be sure to reach out to your provider. Diabetes medications need to be taken as directed because missing doses or taking too much medication can have dangerous effects on your blood sugar levels. Occasionally, allergic reactions or serious side effects can occur.

A Quick Review 

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and typically affects adults over 45. Symptoms may be unnoticeable or mild at first, so follow up on any regular tests your provider has you complete. There are not any perfect ways to prevent diabetes, but losing weight, increasing activity, and eating a balanced diet may help. 

If you are diagnosed with diabetes, work with your healthcare team to learn how to control your blood sugar levels. Taking your medications and eating your recommended diet can help reduce the long-term serious complications that can occur when someone has diabetes.

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