Have you ever stopped to take stock of your risk factors for diabetes? By 2012, almost three million Canadians will know they have the disease. Will you be one of them? Here are five signs you might develop diabetes

By Lisa Bendall

5 signs you’ll develop diabetes

1. You’re overweight and underactive

Of all people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, over 85 percent of them are overweight. Abdominal obesity (fat around your middle) in particular is associated with a high risk of diabetes. Putting on weight raises your body’s resistance to insulin. And that causes high blood sugar.

If you’re sedentary – that is, you don’t get much physical activity in a typical day – then your risk of developing diabetes is doubled. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 85 percent of us rarely get off our duffs.

Just by adding activity to your lifestyle, you reduce two risk factors for diabetes. Not only will exercise lower your insulin resistance, but it will also help you shed weight. Research shows that losing even just a few pounds can prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes.

2. You eat all the foods your mom told you to avoid

If you’re a big fan of high-fat, sugary foods and you enjoy them regularly, you’re making yourself a menu for diabetes.

"People don’t necessarily think of their diet – their comfort foods and their regular foods – as putting them at risk," says Dr. Stewart Harris, a family physician who specializes in diabetes and is the Canadian Diabetes Association chair in diabetes management at the University of Western Ontario’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

But if you make a habit of eating fried foods, drinking pop, slathering on the salad dressing and having a second piece of cake, you’re increasing your odds of gaining weight, which in turn increases insulin resistance and puts you at greater risk of diabetes. You could also develop high cholesterol and high blood pressure, problems that are often found in people with diabetes and are associated with heart disease.

Try eating your favourite foods in smaller portions. Or reach for diet pop or fat-free ice cream when you have cravings.

3. You have a risky family tree

If Type 2 diabetes has been diagnosed in your immediate family – your mom or dad, your brother or sister, or your child – then your chances of getting diabetes yourself are higher.

But when it comes to family history, what many folks don’t know is that your ethnicity also counts towards your diabetes risk. You’re more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if your background is Aboriginal, South Asian, Asian, African or Hispanic.

You can’t change your genes, but you can change your risk level. Since diabetes runs in families, it makes sense to improve your health as a family. If everyone in your household aims for better food choices and more physical activity, you’re all more likely to succeed.

4. You have certain "female problems"

Certain women are more likely to develop diabetes than others. They include women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a female hormonal imbalance that can cause irregular periods. Mothers who’ve given birth to big babies (over 4,000 grams) may develop diabetes. And pregnant women who have gestational diabetes – that is, diabetes found only during the pregnancy – are seven times likelier to have Type 2 diabetes later in life than moms who didn’t.

But, just like people in other high-risk groups, you can better your odds by watching your diet and staying active. If you have already been diagnosed with prediabetes, a medication to lower your blood sugar may also be of benefit.

5. You’re over 40

Although it’s true that Type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed in younger and younger people, the disease is still most frequently identified after age 40. "That’s when we see the spike," says Dr. Harris. "That’s why we recommend regular routine screening starting at age 40 across the general population."

Everyone should be checked for diabetes after 40. But it may make sense to test even earlier if you fall into one or more of the high-risk groups. Your best bet? Talk to your doctor about the diabetes testing that’s right for you.

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Web exclusive, November 2011

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