Even Small Improvements to Lifestyle Can Reduce Diabetes Risk

May 13, 2009

Researchers have concluded that the majority of new diabetes cases among older adults could be prevented by living a modestly healthier lifestyle.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have concluded that the majority of new diabetes cases among older adults could be prevented by living a modestly healthier lifestyle, based on their study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Five lifestyle factors were found to account for nine out of 10 new type 2 diabetes cases among patients over age 65, including diet, smoking habits, alcohol use, physical habits, and amount of body fat (determined by BMI and waist circumference). Participants were categorized into low-risk and high-risk groups based on each of the five main lifestyle factors.

This evidence led lead author Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, assistant professor of epidemiology, HSPH, assistant professor of medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, to conclude that diabetes is truly a lifestyle disease that is for the most part preventable. “Although previous studies had linked these lifestyle factors separately to diabetes or in sum to risk of diabetes in specific socioeconomic populations, this study quantifies the overall impact of several lifestyle factors associated with diabetes risk in a general population of older men and women,” he said.

Sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the study tracked the health of 4,883 men and women over the age of 65 for 10 years through annual questionnaires and physical exams. Three hundred participants were diagnosed with diabetes during the study, and after making “statistical adjustments for age, sex, race, educational level, and annual income, researchers found that each of the five lifestyle factors they measured was independently associated with the onset of diabetes. Overall, the rate of incident diabetes was 35 percent lower for each one additional lifestyle factor in the low-risk group.”

The study emphasized that people lower their risk considerably with even small differences in lifestyle, since many are often not able to live a life of perfect healthy behavior. “Even two or three or four of the five factors, in any combination, were associated with substantially lower risk.”

Mozaffarian also noted that the “differences in lifestyle between the low-risk and high-risk categories were not extreme. For instance, because participants were divided only into two groups, anyone who participated in physical activity above the average was included in the lower-risk group for that category. These physical activity levels included walking regularly and engaging in leisure activities.”

For further information on the study, click here.