What if you had the early warning signs of a life-threatening disease, and someone told you that if you made some lifestyle changes, the disease would go away? Would you be willing to make some sacrifices in order to stay healthy? We all would like to believe that our answer is "yes"; however, when it comes to keeping diabetes at bay, it's really hard for us to do what it takes.

Diabetes is becoming ever more common. Right now, some 7.8 percent of Americans have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Of these, about 5.7 million don't even know they have it yet. Besides full-blown diabetes, there's also a condition known as pre-diabetes, in which a person's blood sugar level is higher than normal but isn't high enough to be called full-blown diabetes. Prediabetics have a higher than average risk of developing not just type 2 diabetes, but also stroke and heart disease.

It's estimated that nearly 30 percent of the adults in the United States have prediabetes but only 7.3 percent know it. And while losing weight and getting into shape often can prevent a prediabetic from going on to develop diabetes, many of us don't take the necessary steps. In fact, only about 1 in 3 adults with prediabetes has gotten advice from their health care provider about how to reduce their risks of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

So, why don't more people seek help? "It's tough to do what we ask people to do when practicing diabetes risk reduction behaviors," says Hope Warsaw,  MMSc, RD, CDE, and the author of the American Diabetes Association's Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy, 4th edition. "It's hard to lose weight in our culture and even when people do lose weight, it's [really] tough to keep it off."

Though many people are able to lose weight initially, it's common to regain the weight after a year. All too often, a person who has prediabetes may feel fine and so is less inclined to make lifestyle changes that could delay or prevent diabetes, says Gerald Bernstein, MD,  director of the Diabetes Management Program for the Gerald J. Friedman Diabetes Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.  

"If the person feels fine, it's almost like they don't believe they have prediabetes," he says. "Yet the number of people with prediabetes is only going to increase."

What to Do

What should you do if you think you might have prediabetes?

Get checked. The American Diabetes Association has a simple Diabetes Risk Test that you can take online.

See your doctor, who may administer different diagnostic tests. If your blood sugar level is abnormal (100 to 125 mg/dl) after a fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) or the oral glucose tolerance test is abnormal (140 to 200 mg/dl), you may get the diagnosis of prediabetes.  

Think small. If you're told to lose weight, remember that the amount of weight you have to lose in order to see results is not as drastic as you might think. The most effective treatment is to lose 5 to 7 percent of your body weight, Warshaw says. For a 200 pound person, this means losing 20 pounds, which is not as daunting as a larger amount might be.

Watch what you drink. Look closely at the beverages you are downing every day. "People are drinking an incredible number of calories without even realizing it," Warshaw says. "That bottle of regular soda at 250 calories or the caramel macchiato for 400 calories in the afternoon can make it hard to lose weight."

Exercise, but don't go crazy. A large study begun in the 1990s, called the Diabetes Prevention Program, showed that those who lose weight and become more active may prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. Participants got results when they were active for just 30 minutes a day, five days a week, Warshaw points out.


Geiss, Linda S., James, Cherie, Gregg, Edward W., Albright, Ann, Williamson, David F. and Cowie, Catherine C. "Diabetes Risk Reduction Behaviors Among U.S. Adults with Prediabetes." American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2 March 2010.

Diabetes Basics: Prediabetes. American Diabetes Association.


National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 2007. Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention.


Diabetes Basics: How to tell if you have Prediabetes. American Diabetes Association.


Diabetes Basics: Diabetes Risk Test. American Diabetes Association.