K-State Research and Extension News
August 28, 2009
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Choose Foods, Lifestyle to Prevent Diabetes

MANHATTAN, Kan. – In the U.S., about 8 percent of the population – 24 million children and adults – has diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that about 57 million Americans have pre-diabetes, and that one in three children born after 2000 is at risk of developing the disease.

Genetics factor into whether or not an individual will develop diabetes, yet everyday choices can increase vulnerability, said Mary Meck Higgins, Kansas State University Research and Extension nutrition specialist.

Early symptoms of the disease can include blurred vision, excessive thirst, frequent urination, hunger, unexplained fatigue or irritability, said Higgins, who is a certified diabetes educator.

Some who have diabetes may not identify symptoms with the disease, said Higgins, who shared that her brother-in-law’s unexplained – and uncharacteristic – irritability was ultimately attributed to diabetes.

Others who have the disease may not experience any symptoms, she said. She encourages an annual health screening that includes measuring fasting blood sugar levels.

An early diagnosis can be an advantage and prevent serious problems, since uncontrolled diabetes can lead to amputation of the feet or legs, blindness, kidney failure, and sexual dysfunction in men and women, she said. If not controlled during the first trimester of pregnancy, diabetes can cause birth defects or the death of an unborn child. If not controlled during the second or third trimester, diabetes may lead to a large baby and put mother and child at risk.  

Up to 58 percent of the people diagnosed with pre-diabetes, and as many as 71 percent of adults ages 60 and over who are diagnosed with pre-diabetes, can delay or prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, said Higgins, who offered the following preventative health tips:

* Get an annual health screening, including a fasting blood sugar test.

* Strive to maintain blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels. Research from the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, conducted from 1983 to 1993 and funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, has shown that keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible can reduce damage to the eyes by 76 percent and damage to kidneys by 35 to 56 percent.

* Reduce body weight by 5 to 7 percent, if overweight. A person weighing 200 pounds can experience health benefits from losing as little as 10 pounds.

* Be physically active for at least 30 minutes most days to improve blood sugar levels, decrease insulin resistance and reduce the risks of a heart attack or stroke. If pressed for time, try exercising at five-or 10-minute intervals to accumulate 30 minutes of physical activity. Try parking the car at the far end of the parking lot and walking, or taking the stairs, rather than the elevator or escalator.

* Avoid tobacco use.

* Color your plate – choose brightly colored vegetables and moderate portions of fruit, whole grains, and proteins such as cooked dried peas and beans, soy foods, low-fat or skim dairy products, fish, nuts, seeds, chicken or turkey (without skin), lean cuts of red meat or eggs.

* Reduce intake of saturated or solid fat, salt and added sugar.

* Learn how to cope with necessary stresses; reduce or eliminate unnecessary stresses.


* Brush and floss teeth daily to protect teeth and gums.


* Report changes in eyesight to a health care professional.


Contact the county or district K-State Research and Extension office for more tips to reduce risks from diabetes. Classes, including “Dining with Diabetes” and “What’s Cookin’ with Diabetes,” a collaborative effort with Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Prime Therapeutics, both of Kansas, offer tips for healthy meals and snacks. More information on collaborative classes is at www.bcbsks.com and click on “Cookin’ with Diabetes.”

More information also is available from the American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org), the National Diabetes Education Program (www.ndep.nih.gov), and the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov).



BOX: Diabetes: Surprising Facts Are Also Sobering          


* According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S., in 2007, 1.6 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed in people ages 20 and older. 

* Ninety to 95 percent of the people who are diagnosed with diabetes have type 2, in which the body is unable to use insulin (an essential hormone) properly.

* Most who are diagnosed with the disease are first diagnosed with pre-diabetes, which means that blood sugar levels are higher than normal (between 100-125 milligram/deciliter), but not yet 126 mg/dl or higher, which indicates diabetes.

* Age can be a factor in developing diabetes or pre-diabetes. The illnesses are twice as common in adults ages 60 years or older.


* Anyone is vulnerable, but individuals in certain ethnic groups, including African Americans (and particularly African American women), Latinos, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, American Indian and Alaskan Native adults, can have a greater risk of developing the disease. 

* Nearly one-fourth of people who have diabetes don’t know it; many are unaware prior to developing a complication from the undiagnosed – and uncontrolled – disease.

Early intervention can delay or prevent the onset of diabetes. More information is available by contacting  the county or district K-State Research and Extension office, the American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org), the National Diabetes Education Program (www.ndep.nih.gov), the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov), or a health care provider.

-          Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Mary Meck Higgins, Ph.D., R.D., Certified Diabetes Educator, K-State Research and Extension


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Nancy Peterson
K-State Research & Extension News

Mary Meck Higgins is at 785-532-1671 or mhiggins@ksu.edu.