Prevent or delay the development of diabetes
November is American Diabetes Month. It’s also an opportunity to develop or refresh your understanding of treatment and prevention strategies that can help those affected by diabetes. Whether you or someone you know has diabetes, continue reading to learn about key facts and how lifestyle changes can impact a diagnosis.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. Your body breaks down part of the food you eat into glucose — or blood sugar — and releases it into your bloodstream and cells for energy. But it’s not a direct process. When glucose levels rise, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin that acts as a key, unlocking the glucose so it can be used properly. If you have diabetes, this mechanism doesn’t work the way it should.
The number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled in the last 20 years. The CDC estimates that in the United States:
- 37 million people have diabetes, but 1 in 5 don’t know it.
- 96 million people have prediabetes, but 8 in 10 don’t know it.
- Diabetes is the eighth leading cause of death, but this may be underreported, meaning the true number is higher.
There are three different classifications of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition, mostly found in adolescence, although it can develop at any age. Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction in which the body destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. This process can go on for months or years before any symptoms appear. There is currently no cure for Type 1 diabetes, although it can be treated with healthy lifestyle habits, managing blood sugar, regular checkups, and self-management.
- Type 2 diabetes is more common than Type 1 diabetes and happens when a person’s cells do not respond normally to insulin. The pancreas makes more insulin to try to get cells to respond but eventually cannot keep up, and blood sugar rises. High sugar is damaging to the body and can cause other serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease. Because excess weight and obesity have been associated with Type 2 diabetes, many experts suggest that an increase in obesity around the world is likely one of the biggest causes of more diabetes diagnoses. A healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight, and avoiding tobacco use are ways to prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy in women who don’t already have diabetes. During pregnancy, a woman’s body makes more hormones and goes through multiple changes, such as weight gain. These changes cause cells to use insulin less effectively. The CDC estimates that between 2% and 10% of pregnancies in the U.S. are affected by this type of diabetes. Blood sugar levels usually return to normal after the baby is born, but having gestational diabetes does increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.
Prediabetes is reversible
It’s estimated that 96 million U.S. adults have prediabetes but more than 80% don’t know it. The good news is that with some meaningful lifestyle changes, it’s often reversible, and Mass General Brigham Health Plan is here to help. In partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital and Linda Delahanty, MS, RD, the Director of Nutrition and Behavioral Research at the Mass General Diabetes Center, we’re proud to offer eligible members access to our Path to Lifestyle Change program.
This six-month program helps adults make healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and increasing movement, which can lower risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and improve quality of life. Participants will learn about nutrition, physical activity, and behavioral strategies and receive the education, tools, and support they need to make lasting lifestyle changes. This program is delivered to members remotely in a series of telephone group conference calls by Mass General Diabetes Center dietitians, with 18 months of follow-up support.
The Path to Lifestyle Change program has already helped hundreds of people learn the skills they need to eat healthy, stay active, and lose weight. Program participants have collectively lost more than 3,000 pounds so far. Path to Lifestyle Change is a covered benefit for Mass General Brigham Health Plan members who are at an elevated risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Take this short quiz to find out if you are at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. If you score 5 or higher, you may benefit from the Path to Lifestyle Change program.