Diabetes was recently named “a defining disease of the 21st century” by the medical journal The Lancet.

In the United States, this chronic condition impacts approximately 11.6% of the population, or 38.4 million people, according to the American Diabetes Association. While type 2 diabetes has long been prevalent among older adults, it’s impacting more and people at an earlier age. In the past two decades, cases of type 2 diabetes have nearly doubled among young people in the US, writes The Lancet, with a high burden among Black and Indigenous American people.

While it’s important to know the stats, it’s also critical to know the facts: type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90-95% of diagnosed cases of diabetes, is a highly preventable disease. April is Defeat Diabetes Month, and it’s a good time to join the movement that seeks to educate and empower people to prevent this condition. Read on to understand more about what steps you can take to defeat diabetes. 

  1. Know your risk factors. If the following characteristics describe you, you face a higher risk for developing diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • You have pre-diabetes.
  • You are overweight.
  • You are 45 or older.
  • You have a sibling or parent who has type 2 diabetes.
  • You are not physically active three times a week or more.
  • You have had gestational diabetes and/or you gave birth to a child who weighed 9 pounds or more.
  • You are Black, Latino, American Indian or Alaskan Native; if you are Pacific Islander or Asian American you may also face higher risks.
  1. Learn the symptoms of diabetes. Not everyone develops symptoms when they have diabetes. But those who do may experience the following, per the U.S. Government’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion:
  • Excessive thirst or hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Cuts or bruises that heal slowly
  • Blurry vision
  • Numbness or tingles in your hands and/or feet
  1. Talk to your doctor. If you’re experiencing the above symptoms, talk to your doctor. And even if you’re not experiencing symptoms, be sure and make an annual appointment for a check-up so your provider can detect any changes to your health. At that time, ask your doctor about your risk for developing diabetes, and whether you should be tested. If a blood sugar test indicates that you have high blood sugar (but not high enough to be diabetes) you could have pre-diabetes, which affects one in three Americans. It’s important to find out if you have pre-diabetes, because even with this diagnosis, you can take steps to prevent type 2 diabetes.
  2. Commit to an active lifestyle. Regular exercise helps lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. Aim for the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity. If you’re bored with your current exercise routine, mix it up and participate in activities that don’t feel like exercise, whether it’s dancing, swimming, sports, walking or even housework. Find a partner and make it a social occasion.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight. For many people, losing 5-7% of their weight can help prevent diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Physical activity, as mentioned above, can help with weight loss. So can subtle changes to your diet, such as opting for smaller portions, drinking water instead of beverages with sugar (including fruit juice) and choosing to eat fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed snacks. Talk to your doctor about other changes you can make to feel healthy.
  4. Quit smoking. People who smoke are 30-40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC; and smokers who have diabetes are more likely to struggle with managing their disease. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor or call 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit CDC.gov/tips.

Diabetes is a leading cause of death in the United States. Those who live with diabetes also live with an increased risk of developing other health conditions, such as heart disease and experiencing a stroke. And yet, research shows that nearly nine out of 10 cases of diabetes could be avoided just through making a few lifestyle changes. This month, take matters into your own hands and remember that you have the power to defeat diabetes.