In the Spotlight

Top Five Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Most of us know someone with diabetes. Diabetes is a serious disease that can lead to other serious health problems, like heart attacks and kidney failure. Many Veterans have diabetes, which is characterized by high blood sugar.

Type 1 diabetes results from not having enough of the hormone insulin. Although Type 1 diabetes usually appears in childhood, it can also occur in adults. Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes among Veterans. This results from the body resisting insulin, usually because of being overweight or obese. While most people can at first manage the disease with diet and exercise, many will eventually need medication, including insulin.

Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Aging
  • A family history of the disease
  • Having had gestational diabetes - or diabetes that develops during pregnancy
  • Coming from certain ethnic backgrounds. It is more common in African Americans, American Indians, some Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders and Hispanics/Latinos.

In the Driver's Seat

You can't change certain risk factors. For example, your race, ethnic background, age or family history. However, you can make lifestyle changes to help prevent diabetes or slow the onset of the disease. Research has found that a healthy lifestyle also helps people who develop diabetes manage the disease better. Here are five top diabetes busters:

  1. Shed those extra pounds
    Type 2 diabetes is closely linked to being overweight or obese. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, about 80 percent of people with diabetes are overweight.
  2. Eat nutrition-rich, low-calorie foods
    Replace fried and high-fat foods with fresh vegetables, baked, broiled or grilled chicken, fish and lean meat. Try fruit or nonfat frozen yogurt for dessert instead of cake or ice cream. And substitute a glass of red wine for your draft beer.
  3. Don't be a couch potato
    Any physical activity is better than none. If you haven't been active for awhile, start walking. Find an activity you enjoy so you'll stick with it.
  4. Get regular checkups
    Your doctor can test you for diabetes. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase your risk for diabetes and other diseases.
  5. Get a handle on stress
    Stress releases certain hormones that play an important role in how your body handles sugar. It can also increase your blood pressure, which can raise your risk for diabetes. Exercise is a great stress-buster! Try a yoga class, take a bike ride or go for a swim. Some people relax with a funny book or movie, or getting together with friends.
Man stretching while exercising

VA Can Help

Changing your lifestyle is no small task. VA created the MOVE! Weight Management Program to support Veterans who want to get back in shape and feel better. And My HealtheVet has online tools to help you manage your weight and your diabetes. This includes personal journals to track your daily food and activity intake. You can record your health history, lab tests, blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. If you get your care at a VA facility and have an upgraded* My HealtheVet account you may be able to view key portions of your VA health record. You can also use Secure Messaging to communicate and share information with your health care team.

A Whole New Life

After losing 225 pounds through MOVE!, Ernie Lohmann was able to stop using all three of his diabetes medications. Now his sleep apnea is no longer a problem. He sleeps better and can get around much more easily. "It's like a whole new life," said Lohmann, who credits much of his success to MOVE! at the Sarasota, Fla., community based outpatient clinic.

"A little more than three quarters of the Veterans the VA currently serves are overweight or obese," said Dr. Kenneth Jones, a clinical health psychologist and national program director for Weight Management/MOVE! at the Veterans Health Administration's National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Durham, N.C.

"With the majority of Americans being overweight or obese, it's not surprising that the majority of Veterans are too," said Jones. "On the other hand, as young adults, Veterans were the 'fittest of the fit.' So it's surprising that those Veterans served by VA appear to be carrying more weight than other Americans."

Research suggests a couple of reasons for this. As a group, Veterans receiving care from VA are slightly older than the general population, and older age is associated with greater weight, according to Jones. Secondly, Veterans receiving care from VA have, on average, one or two more chronic health conditions than the general adult population, which can get in the way of maintaining a healthy weight.

"The things you do to help prevent diabetes are things you should be doing for your health anyway," said Jones.

*Note - To upgrade your My HealtheVet account, you will need to go through Authentication. This is a process by which VA verifies a Veterans' identity before allowing access to their VA health record. Learn how to upgrade your account by visiting the authentication page at My HealtheVet.

Ernie Lohmann weighing himself after losing 225 pounds

Learn More

National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
Stay-healthy Information from VA

National Diabetes Education Program
More information about preventing diabetes from the NIDDK


Updated/Reviewed: August 16, 2012