Diabetes - Finding the Cause

Study finds adult diabetes 90% preventable

By Gene Emery

BOSTON, Sep 13 (Reuters) - Nine out of 10 cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented if people exercised more, ate better, stopped smoking and adopted other healthy behaviors, according to a report in Thursday's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study findings suggest behavior is the main culprit in type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, and that 91% of the diabetes cases that appeared among 85,000 female nurses "could be attributed to habits and forms of behavior."

"The majority of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by the adoption of a healthier lifestyle," reported researchers led by Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot properly use the blood sugar-controlling hormone insulin. Obesity is known to be a major contributor to the condition. Hu's team wanted to determine the extent of the role lifestyle plays in type 2 diabetes.

Using diet and lifestyle questionnaires, Hu's team compared data on the 3,300 nurses who developed diabetes over a 16-year period with data on those who did not. The most important risk factor, they found, was being overweight. The heavier a nurse was, the greater the risk.

But even having a weight at the high end of the normal range nearly tripled the risk, Hu pointed out.

On the other hand, physical activity showed a strong protective effect. Women who exercised for 7 or more hours per week were half as likely to develop diabetes than women who exercised for less than half an hour weekly, the researchers found.

They noted that the same precautions for preventing type 2 diabetes--including exercise and weight control--also guard against heart disease.

SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine 2001;345.