Understanding Diabetes: Reducing Type 2 Risk

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Dr Stacey Lockyer, Senior Nutrition Scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, tells us how to understand diabetes and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes

In the UK, over 4.9 million people have diabetes, and this figure is rising. An estimated 850,000 people are also currently living with type 2 diabetes.
but have not yet been diagnosed.

What is diabetes ?

Diabetes is a complicated, serious, and often lifelong disease in which blood sugar levels can get too high. Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as insulin-dependent diabetes) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system causes permanent damage to certain cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which stops the production of insulin. ‘insulin. Type 1 diabetes is managed using insulin injections coupled with a healthy diet.

Type 2 diabetes (formerly known as non-insulin dependent diabetes) occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin produced does not work properly (this is called insulin resistance). to insulin). Dietary modification and physical activity are the two main approaches to treating type 2 diabetes, and medications are often required for its management. About 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, about 8% have type 1 diabetes, and about 2% of people with diabetes have rarer types of diabetes. Diabetes costs the UK’s National Health Service around £10 billion a year, around 10% of its total budget. Nearly 80% of this amount is spent on treating complications, including problems with the eyes, feet, heart, kidneys, nerves and gums, as well as acute events related to too high or too low blood sugar ( i.e. “hypers”, ‘hypos’, hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state and diabetic ketoacidosis).

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Who is at risk?

It is estimated that 13.6 million people in the UK are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is usually associated with being overweight or obese and can be prevented. Some of the other risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes (some of which are modifiable and some of which are not) are:

  • Be over 40 (or over 25 for people of Black African, South Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent). People of Black African, Afro-Caribbean or South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi) descent living in the UK are two to four times more likely to have type 2 diabetes than the white population.
  • Having type 2 diabetes in the family.
  • Have a waist circumference > 80 cm for women, > 94 cm for men and > 90 cm for men of South Asian origin.
  • Those who have been told by a healthcare professional that they have impaired glucose tolerance (sometimes called “prediabetes”) or metabolic syndrome are at increased risk.
  • Have a history of high blood pressure.
  • Have a history of polycystic ovary syndrome or gestational diabetes.
  • People with specific mental disorders (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression) and those taking antipsychotic medications are at increased risk.
  • Deprivation – people from disadvantaged areas are more likely to have diabetes.
  • Having disturbed sleep or sleeping too little or too much.
  • Several lifestyle factors are linked to overweight and obesity, including smoking, physical inactivity, poor diet and excessive alcohol consumption.

Diabetes UK offers a Know Your Risk online tool which provides information about your risk of type 2 diabetes. The tool identifies people who are eligible for the Healthier You NHS diabetes prevention program in England and can improve people’s understanding of diabetes.

How can I reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

A healthy, balanced and varied diet, physical activity and reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and can even put the disease into remission in some people.

A healthy, balanced, and varied diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, meals made with fiber-rich varieties of starches, protein from a variety of sources, reduced-fat dairy products or fortified alternatives, and small amounts of unsaturated oils and spreads. Foods high in fat, sugar or salt should be limited.

For more evidence-based information on how you can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes through diet and lifestyle, and gain a better understanding of diabetes, visit the British Nutrition Foundation website


  1. Diabetes UK (2022) Diabetes statistics https://www.diabetes.org.uk/
  2. NHS (2019) Diabetes https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetes/
  3. Public Health England (2014) Adult obesity and type 2 diabetes https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/upload s/attachment_data/file/338934/Adult_obesity_and_type_2_diabetes_.pdf

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