Type 2 Diabetes is Australia’s fastest growing chronic health condition. The prevalence of the disease may even mean today’s children will be the first for many centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
We spoke to Fiona Benton, Executive Manager of Service Development & Delivery at Diabetes SA, to find out what steps we can take to avoid developing the progressive disease.
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to regulate the body’s blood glucose (sugar) levels, or insulin doesn’t work properly in the body.
The seriousness of diabetes shouldn’t be underestimated because it can lead to devastating complications, such as heart attack, stroke, blindness, or kidney failure. “It’s a really serious condition that can have devastating complications,” says Fiona.
By far the most common form of diabetes, accounting for 85-90% of cases, is type 2. Unlike type 1, type 2 usually develops later in life, it can be preventable, and its symptoms can often go undetected.
“People can be asymptomatic and have Type 2 Diabetes for 10 years or so and not know it. But some of the symptoms that you could have are fatigue, blurred vision, gradual weight gain, increased thirst and increased passing of urine,” says Fiona.
Different people can experience different symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes, but the main ones include:
There are specific groups of people that are most at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Some of the risk factors are unavoidable, whereas others can be modified through lifestyle changes to help keep the condition at bay.
You might be at higher risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes if you:
Fiona says, if you’re unsure about whether you’re at risk, you should look at using the Australian Type 2 Diabetes risk assessment tool (AUSDRISK).
The AUSDRISK is “an online calculator that gives you an idea as to whether you’re at low risk for type 2, moderate risk or high risk. It only takes a couple of minutes to complete and it’s a great thing to take to your GP to initiate a conversation,” says Fiona.
Your GP can then perform further tests to work out whether you’re living with pre diabetes or have already developed the condition.
To use this tool visit health.gov.au
The following lifestyle choices have all been shown to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. If you think you’re at risk, then making adjustments to your lifestyle could be your best bet to staying healthy and steering clear of a diabetes diagnosis.
Watch your weight
Over 60% of South Australians are either overweight or obese. While it can be challenging, maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to avoid getting Type 2 Diabetes. “If you’re carrying extra weight around your abdominal area, that increases your insulin resistance, which means the insulin can’t work as effectively as it could, your blood glucose levels start to rise and you’re at risk of Type 2 Diabetes,” says Fiona.
Eat a well-balanced diet
Maintaining good nutrition is not only a great way to improve your overall physical and mental wellbeing, but it also helps keep Type 2 Diabetes at bay. Fiona says, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to preventing diabetes, but generally, avoiding processed foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt will hold you in good stead. She says that, “It’s not recommended to avoid whole food groups, but rather to have a balanced approach to eating, focussing on portion sizes and including a range of foods – wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, lean protein and dairy foods.”
If you’re not sure, you can always seek help from an accredited practising dietitian.
The best advice is to keep active. Making sure you’re not sitting down all day is vital to preventing Type 2 Diabetes, and a suggested starting point is doing 30 minutes of exercise each day. If 30 minutes is more than you can manage, feel free to spread the activity across a couple of smaller windows throughout the day, such as taking the stairs instead of the lift or getting off the bus one stop earlier than usual and walking the extra distance… Also see if you can perform some muscle-strengthening activities twice a week.
“There’s great evidence around physical activity and the benefits for the prevention of any chronic disease, and Type 2 Diabetes in particular,” says Fiona.
Smoking increases the likelihood of Type 2 Diabetes, as does excessive drinking, so it’s in your best interest to cut down or, ideally, remove them altogether.
Check with your GP
If you’re at all concerned about whether or not you’re at risk, check with your GP. They’ll be able to provide some advice and help you manage your individual situation.
We've partnered with Australia-wide healthcare providers to offer a personalised diabetes program, helping to better manage your health condition, at no additional cost.
Call 1300 113 113 to see if you're eligible