UW News

November 15, 2001

Cut your chance of developing Type 2 diabetes by 50 percent!

That headline sounds like an ad from the back of a magazine, doesn’t it? Amazingly, a recently released study says it’s true. What’s more, if you are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, you can do a lot to prevent it taking over your life just by putting one foot in front of the other, and making some changes in your diet.

Dr. Wilfred Fujimoto, professor of endocrinology in the School of Medicine, was a co-investigator for a recently released nationwide study on the prevention of Type 2 diabetes. He points out that the thousands of people who participated in the study were already known to be at risk for developing diabetes.

“These people have impaired glucose tolerance, as shown by an oral glucose tolerance test. Their fasting glucose levels put them in roughly the top 50 percent of those with impaired glucose tolerance,” Fujimoto says. “We also targeted recruitment toward people who had a family history of diabetes, women who had a history of gestational diabetes, people who were generally overweight and people in racial minority groups who are at high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.”

While most people think making lifestyle changes will be hard, many participants in the Diabetes Prevention Program, or DPP, were able to make those changes less painful. They were first taught what to do, and then encouraged to walk for 30 minutes five days a week and to reduce the amount of calories and fats, especially saturated fats, in the diet.

“We allowed our subjects to go through about four months of training – meeting with dieticians, learning about the importance of exercise,” Fujimoto says. “It’s a gradual process. The thing that turns a lot of people off about diet and exercise is that they think it all has to be done quickly and they have to see results immediately. That’s not going to happen. A gradual weight loss is more acceptable than a fast one.”

The weight loss doesn’t have to be massive to make a difference. DPP participants were asked to lose about 7 percent of their body weight in the first year of the study, and maintain this. They were actually able to remain at a 5 percent loss at the end of the study. Since many participants were over 200 pounds, these losses of about 15 pounds didn’t make any of them skinny.”This goes to show that you don’t need major weight loss to get good medical results,” Fujimoto says. “There’s a difference between cosmetic weight loss and what is a medically effective weight loss.”

How can you translate these results into your own personal Diabetes Prevention Program? Try these first steps, particularly if you think you might be at risk for Type 2 diabetes, are obese or lead a sedentary lifestyle:

  • First, check with your doctor. Ask for a glucose tolerance test, and talk to your health practitioner about whether you can participate in moderate exercise.

  • Show a dietician what you eat in a typical week, and ask for suggestions on how to reduce animal fats and excess calories in your diet.

  • Look for classes in low-fat cuisine at your local community college, county extension service or even at local stores. If you can’t find hands-on classes, check out the Internet or available cookbooks.

  • Talk to the manager of your local grocery store, or check out the bulletin boards there. Many stores offer informal classes on understanding food labels, cooking healthy meals, choosing the best produce and much more.

Is this effort worth it? Fujimoto thinks so, and so do the participants in the DPP.

“Every year you save in delaying the onset of Type 2 diabetes,” Fujimoto says, “delays and reduces the costs of treating the disease and its complications.”