JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Primary prevention of diabetes: what can be done and how much can be prevented?

Matthias B Schulze, Frank B Hu
Annual Review of Public Health 2005, 26: 445-67
15760297
Although it is widely believed that type 2 diabetes mellitus is the result of a complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors, compelling evidence from epidemiologic studies indicates that the current worldwide diabetes epidemic is largely due to changes in diet and lifestyle. Prospective cohort studies and randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that type 2 diabetes can be prevented largely through moderate diet and lifestyle modifications. Excess adiposity is the most important risk factor for diabetes, and thus, maintaining a healthy body weight and avoiding weight gain during adulthood is the cornerstone of diabetes prevention. Increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviors such as prolonged TV watching are important both for maintaining body weight and improving insulin sensitivity. There is increasing evidence that the quality of fat and carbohydrate plays a more important role than does the quantity, and thus, public health strategies should emphasize replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats and replacing refined grain products with whole grains. Recent studies have also suggested a potential role for coffee, dairy, nuts, magnesium, and calcium in preventing diabetes. Overall, a healthy diet, together with regular physical activity, maintenance of a healthy weight, moderate alcohol consumption, and avoidance of sedentary behaviors and smoking, could nearly eliminate type 2 diabetes. However, there is still a wide gap between what we know and what we practice in the field of public health; how to narrow that gap remains a major public health challenge.

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