Although diabetes is normally associated with older adults, people of all ages are at risk of developing the disease. In their most recent diabetes statistics report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly 29 million people in the United States are living with a diabetes diagnosis.1
While the total incidence of new diabetes cases has declined in the last decade, the incidence of diabetes and related complications among young and middle-aged adults has increased. In a study conducted by the CDC in 2019, prediabetes was identified in nearly one in five adolescents aged 12 through 18 and one in four individuals aged 19 through 34.2
Keep reading to learn what diabetes is, how you can help prevent it and what to do if you are living with this disease.
All types of diabetes mellitus are related to the production of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that plays a crucial role in processing the sugar glucose, which is the body’s main energy source.
The two main types of diabetes mellitus are Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body loses the ability to make its own insulin. The cause is often an autoimmune issue in which the body attacks and destroys the cells of the pancreas responsible for making insulin.
Type 1 is less common than Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 is often genetic, cannot be prevented and requires a person to take insulin for life. Type 2 diabetes, however, can be prevented or delayed through early action. Type 2 diabetes begins with a condition known as “insulin resistance.”
Insulin resistance means that, while the pancreas is still producing insulin, the body is not using it properly. This initial condition is called prediabetes. When a person is living with prediabetes, it becomes necessary for their body to produce more insulin to do the same amount of work.
Over time, the pancreas loses its ability to keep up with demand and ceases to meet the body’s insulin needs. As blood glucose levels rise due to the body’s inability to compensate with insulin production, diabetes symptoms develop. Because increased levels of blood glucose cause damage over time, early screening and treatment are vital.
Many organizations, including the American Diabetes Association and the CDC, offer online screening tools that can help identify risk factors for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.3
Can You Prevent Diabetes?
While some risk factors — such as family history, age and ethnicity — are not preventable, there are many risk factors you can control. The main contributor to insulin resistance is being overweight; achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is therefore a worthwhile target.
Do not be overwhelmed by the thought of reaching an ideal weight. Even a weight loss of 10–15 pounds can have a positive impact on your risk factors. Since living a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor, increasing your physical activity can reduce your risk of diabetes. While a planned exercise routine is desirable, any moderate increase in activity will improve overall health.
Because there is a strong association between diabetes, heart disease and stroke, it is also important to control other risk factors such as smoking and high blood pressure. If you have several risk factors for diabetes, you should see your healthcare provider for routine screening and evaluation. Early detection can help prevent complications now and in the future.
Grand Canyon University’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions is committed to helping individuals take control of their health with programs such as the Bachelor of Science in Public Health and the Master of Science in Public Health. Click on the Request Info button to learn more.
1Center for Disease Control, National Diabetes Statistics Report in March 2022
2Center for Disease Control, CDC Newsroom Releases, 1 in 5 adolescents and 1 in 4 young adults now living with prediabetes in March 2022
3American Diabetes Association in March 2022
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.