Reduce Teens' Risk for Prediabetes Through Nutrition and Exercise

Tips for Reducing Prediabetes Risk in Teens | Abbott Nutrition

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Proactive Lifestyle Shifts That Can Reduce the Risk of Prediabetes in Teens

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FEB. 03, 2020  4 MIN. READ

Prediabetes is increasingly affecting children and young adults in the United States. A new survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that around one in five adolescents (ages 12–18) and one in four young adults (ages 19–34) in the U.S. are now living with prediabetes.

People diagnosed with this condition have an excess of sugar in their blood, but not high enough to be called diabetes, which can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves over time. They're also at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and the complications associated with diabetes. However, by incorporating good eating and exercise habits, this diagnosis can oftentimes be reversed. 

What Did the Study Find?

In examining the fasting blood sugar — glucose level after not eating for a specified period, usually overnight — of more than 5,000 participants, the researchers found that prediabetes was prevalent in 18% of adolescents and 24% of young adults. These individuals had a fasting blood sugar level between 100 and 125 mg/dl, which the American Diabetes Association (ADA) classifies as prediabetes.

The rate of prediabetes was higher in male participants, they found, and in those with obesity. Young Hispanic adults also had higher rates compared to young white adults. Participants with prediabetes had high levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and abdominal fat, and low insulin sensitivity.

What Causes Prediabetes?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. With insulin resistance, one of the most common causes of prediabetes, cells in the muscles, fat and liver don't respond well enough to insulin. As a result, glucose in the bloodstream isn't properly absorbed.

The pancreas will kick into overdrive to produce more insulin to manage this glucose. But if it can't, blood sugar levels will increase beyond normal levels. This can set the stage for prediabetes and, if left unmanaged, type 2 diabetes down the road.

There are certain lifestyle factors that may put one at risk for prediabetes, including:

  • Being overweight.
  • Eating processed foods with sugar, starches and saturated fats in excess.
  • Excessive stress.
  • Smoking.
  • Heavy alcohol use.
  • Poor sleep habits.
  • Exercising fewer than three times a week.

If type 2 diabetes runs in your family or you're 45 years old or older, you may be at a higher risk for prediabetes. Scheduling regular visits with your doctor can help you keep tabs on your blood glucose levels and ensure it stays within a normal range.

What Prevention and Treatment Options Are There?

If your doctor says you're at risk for diabetes, here's what you need to know.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the body doesn't make insulin. It's usually diagnosed in children and young adults. Those with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day to manage their blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn't make or use insulin well. It's the most common form of diabetes and is usually diagnosed in adults.

Prediabetes can develop into type 2 diabetes. But with these simple lifestyle shifts, you can take charge of your health and better manage your blood sugar.

  • Adjust your eating plan:

    Being mindful of what you're eating can make a huge difference. For instance, increasing your intake of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Using the healthy eating resource by the ADA can help you put together well-balanced meals with proper portions. A registered dietitian as well as other healthcare professionals can help you craft a nutritious eating plan.

  • Be a role model:

    If you have young children who are also at risk for prediabetes, you'll want to empower them to make smart eating and lifestyle choices. Children learn by example, so you'll want to model these behaviors at home. Cook healthy meals as a family, leave a fruit bowl out on the table, or go on nightly neighborhood walks. Make a healthy lifestyle a family affair.

  • Work exercise into your daily routine:

    You don't need to spend hours at the gym to boost your wellness. Start simple by doing activities you enjoy, such as taking your dog for a walk, dancing around the house, or playing hide-and-seek with your kids. Aim for 30 minutes of activity a day, which can also be broken up into three 10-minute periods.

If you have questions about prediabetes prevention or a diagnosis, don't hesitate to reach out to your doctor. Additionally, you can try Glucerna's free Ask a Dietitian online chat service or participate in the CDC's National Diabetes Prevention Program.

Remember, neither prediabetes or diabetes has to disrupt your life. By making slight lifestyle changes and proactively seeking out information, you can manage your blood sugar and keep your health in tip-top shape.

Diabetes: 10 Foods and Drinks to Help Manage Blood Sugar

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A bowl of blueberries and a blueberry smoothie.


If you're living with diabetes, you probably know all about the careful balancing act that is diabetes nutrition. Making good food choices can make a big impact on blood sugar management, but sometimes it’s tricky to know which foods are considered good choices. These 10 picks can help you manage blood sugar levels and keep your numbers in check.

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