Diabetes is a debilitating chronic disease with no cure that has reached epidemic proportions worldwide. Many of the risk factors of diabetes are well-known and include the following:
- Genetics: Mostly prevalent as a factor in Type 1 diabetes but can influence the way a person with Type 2 diabetes responds to exercise
- Obesity: A higher BMI indicates a higher risk
- Inactivity: Sedentary lifestyles contribute to other risk factors such as drinking and smoking, which, in combination, increase the risk of diabetes exponentially
- Race and income level: Low-income minorities are more at risk for diabetes for all of the above reasons but also due to limited access to fresh food, medical resources, and education
While some risk factors for diabetes are not within a person’s control, here are four risk factors for diabetes that can be mediated with easy action.
1. Watching TV
What is the easiest way to increase your risk for diabetes? Spend more time in front of the television. A new study published in Diabetologia found that every hour spent watching television increases the risk of developing diabetes by 3.4%. This result was part of a Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) lifestyle intervention that was looking at how increasing physical activity helped prevent or treat diabetes. Researchers were not expecting to find that TV watching itself was a substantial lifestyle risk factor.
2. Low vitamin D levels
A new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that even more than obesity, low vitamin D levels indicated an increased risk for developing diabetes. Considering that over one billion people worldwide are estimated to have low levels of vitamin D, this is a troubling finding.
One of the study’s authors, Mercedes Clemente-Postigo, MSc, of Instituto de Investigación Biomédica de Málaga (IBIMA) at Complejo Hospitalario de Málaga (Virgen de la Victoria) and Universidad de Málaga in Malaga, Spain, noted that the strength of the study was its variety of participants, saying:
“The major strength of this study is that it compares vitamin D levels in people at a wide range of weights (from lean to morbidly obese subjects) while taking whether they had diabetes into account.”
Another of the study’s authors, Manuel Macías-González, PhD, of Complejo Hospitalario de Málaga (Virgen de la Victoria) and the University of Málaga, proposed that even if the findings were troubling, the solution may be simple, saying:
“Our findings indicate that vitamin D is associated more closely with glucose metabolism than obesity. The study suggests that vitamin D deficiency and obesity interact synergistically to heighten the risk of diabetes and other metabolic disorders. The average person may be able to reduce their risk by maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough outdoor activity.”
3. Fat choices
Diet is a primary treatment protocol for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Most treatment plans recommend low-fat dairy products, presumably to help manage weight gain and BMI, but new research from Lund University shows that full-fat dairy products are the best choice when it comes to reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. It appears that it is not necessarily the level of fat in the diet that increases risk, but rather the type of fat. While consuming full-fat dairy products reduced the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, meat consumption increased the risk.
Study author Ulrika Ericson noted that the composition of fat in foods may be the key to why some fat appears to lower risk while other fat raises it:
“When we investigated the consumption of saturated fatty acids that are slightly more common in dairy products than in meat, we observed a link with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. However, we have not ruled out the possibility that other components of dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese may have contributed to our results. We have taken into account many dietary and lifestyle factors in our analysis, such as fermentation, calcium, vitamin D and physical activity. Our results suggest that we should not focus solely on fat, but rather consider what foods we eat. Many foodstuffs contain different components that are harmful or beneficial to health, and it is the overall balance that is important.”
4. Less added sugar
The number of people with Type 2 diabetes worldwide has more than doubled from 153 million in 1980 to 347 million in 2008. One of the reasons for this increase may be the increased consumption of fructose. Current nutritional guidelines indicate that a diet can have up to 25% of added sugars daily, but researchers have called for a drastic reduction of that in a recent write-up in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Lead author James J. DiNicolantonio, PharmD, a cardiovascular research scientist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, plainly stated the causes and consequences of this increased consumption, saying:
“At current levels, added-sugar consumption, and added-fructose consumption in particular, are fueling a worsening epidemic of type 2 diabetes. Approximately 40% of U.S. adults already have some degree of insulin resistance with projections that nearly the same percentage will eventually develop frank diabetes.”
Recommendations for appropriate levels of added daily sugar consumption vary widely and include the following:
- 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 19%
- Institute of Medicine: 25%
- World Health Organization: 10% (with a goal of 5% for “optimal health”)
- American Heart Association: No more than six teaspoons for women and nine for men
Fructose naturally occurs in fruit, which is fine to consume and does not count towards a daily total of added sugars. This study specifically looked at processed foods with added sugar (e.g., spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, cereals, etc.). The study authors believe that dietary guidelines should be further edited to include more consumption of fruits and vegetables, a lifestyle change that can prevent Type 2 diabetes.
Looking over this list of risk factors for diabetes, what changes do you need to make?
Image by Katherine Lim via Flickr