Reducing Diabetes

Adopting Multiple Healthy Lifestyles May Reduce the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

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A new study suggests that a combination of five healthy lifestyle factors may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, even in the presence of a positive family history and suboptimal weight status. The results appeared in the September 6, 2011 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Diabetes affects an estimated 25.8 million Americans of all ages—over 8% of the population—with type 2 diabetes accounting for 90% to 95% of all diagnosed adult cases. Previous research has tied several lifestyle factors to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, but the studies typically focused on the impact of one risk factor at a time.

A research team from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) compiled the data. The five risk factors of interest were healthful eating, maintaining an optimal body weight, engaging in recommended amounts of physical activity, not smoking, and keeping alcohol use to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

The team used data collected from more than 200,000 adults enrolled in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Healthy men and women between the ages of 50 and 71 completed extensive surveys for three years in the mid-1990s about their diets, demographic characteristics, lifestyle, and medical conditions. They were then followed for 11 years to see if they developed diabetes, determined by physician diagnosis and reported by the patient between 2004 and 2006.

The results suggest that if Americans were to adopt multiple healthy lifestyle factors, they could reduce their diabetes risk by up to 84%. Overall, 9.6% of men and 7.5% of women developed new-onset diabetes at follow-up. Among men and women who were overweight, the odds of developing diabetes were 31% lower for men and 39% lower for women for each additional lifestyle factor incorporated.

For overweight participants whose diet score, physical activity level, smoking status, and alcohol consumption were within the low-risk group, the odds for diabetes were 39% lower for men and 57% lower for women. Maintaining a healthy weight led to the greatest protection; at a standard, healthy weight, men were 72% less likely to develop diabetes and women were 84% less likely to be at risk. Similar associations were observed among participants with and without a family history of diabetes.

What Is the Bottom Line?

This research is important because it provides an incentive for people with a family history of diabetes to adopt a more healthful lifestyle, with support from their healthcare providers. The authors call for public health efforts that continue to support an optimal body weight, adopting healthy and attainable physical activity and dietary goals, and smoking cessation. They also note that the recommendation for alcohol consumption should be reserved for people without any contraindications.
Jill Shuman, MS, ELS
Published October 4, 2011

Source: Reis JP, Loria CM, Sorlie PD, et al. Lifestyle factors and risk for new-onset diabetes. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(5):292-299.