The Silent Threat: Understanding prediabetes

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While the world focuses on the latest infectious disease outbreaks, a far more insidious health crisis is brewing. Prediabetes is the often-overlooked precursor to debilitating illnesses. With prediabetes, your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.

Think of prediabetes like a flashing warning light on your dashboard. You might feel fine; things might still seem to be working, but if you ignore it, you’re headed for serious trouble. As an expert in nutrition and public health, I’ve seen how prediabetes can progress. It significantly raises your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Are you at risk? Millions are and don’t even know it. According to the CDC, a staggering 70% of individuals with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes if there’s no health intervention.

It’s easy to underestimate the silent danger of prediabetes. You may not have obvious symptoms, feeling perfectly healthy for years. This is why it’s so dangerous and why millions remain unaware of the ticking time bomb within their bodies.

Vulnerable communities and the power of prevention

Limited access to healthcare, nutritious food, and safe exercise spaces leaves marginalized communities worldwide most vulnerable. My research projects in Kenya and the US have exposed a common thread across underserved communities – the devastating yet preventable impacts of chronic disease. For example, in my work in peri-urban communities in Kenya, I saw how a lack of basic health education around chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes led to delayed diagnosis and worse outcomes. In many developing countries, early diagnosis is delayed due to factors like limited knowledge, focus on infectious diseases, poor health-seeking behaviors, lack of access to diagnostic and treatment services, and inadequate health promotion policies. The consequences of unchecked prediabetes and other chronic diseases reverberate through communities and across generations. Chronic diseases not only impacts individual health but also strains healthcare systems and creates economic burdens that can trap communities in cycles of disadvantage.

The good news is that prediabetes doesn’t have to be your destiny. Prevention is absolutely crucial. Simple lifestyle changes—healthier eating, moving more—significantly lower risk. We need a global shift toward prevention, empowering individuals and communities to protect their health. My experiences have shown it doesn’t take complex medical interventions; providing knowledge, tools, and support can lead to profound improvements in health outcomes.

Turning Awareness into Action: Steps to combat prediabetes

It’s understandable that some might view the advice to “eat healthier and move more” with skepticism. After all, if it were that simple, wouldn’t we have conquered many chronic diseases by now? However, the simplicity of the message belies the complexity and power of its impact. Research consistently shows that modest weight loss of 5% to 7% of body weight, combined with 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, can reduce the risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes by up to 58% in high-risk populations. These numbers aren’t just statistics; they represent a significant opportunity for prevention that’s grounded in scientific evidence.

Skepticism may also arise from the belief that genetic predisposition overshadows lifestyle choices. While genetics play a role, lifestyle interventions have been proven effective even for those with a family history of diabetes. This underscores the potential of prevention strategies to alter what seems like a predetermined path.

Early diagnosis is essential for the effective management of any disease. Knowing your prediabetes risk is the first step. Talk to your doctor about getting screened, especially if you are overweight, over 45, or have a family history of diabetes. Don’t ignore potential warning signs. While prediabetes might not produce dramatic symptoms, once the complications of full-blown diabetes start to occur, nearly every aspect of your health can be affected. That’s because the excessive sugar in your blood damages blood vessels and nerves throughout your body. Taking action early can change the trajectory of your health for decades to come.

Taking control of your health and potentially reversing the course of prediabetes involves several proactive steps. Begin by talking to your healthcare provider about prediabetes screening if you’re at risk due to factors like age, weight, or family history. Adopting healthier eating habits by incorporating more whole foods into your diet and making small changes, such as choosing water over sugar sweetened drinks, can have a significant impact. Increasing physical activity to at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, finding an activity you enjoy, can make it easier to maintain. Seeking support through community exercise groups or online forums can provide motivation and accountability. Educating yourself and others about prediabetes and diabetes prevention is crucial; knowledge is power.

Dr. Githinji is a nutrition and public health expert specializing in applying evidence-based strategies in addressing modifiable risk factors such as diet and physical activity to prevent or delay the onset of chronic diseases in at-risk adults

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