Can diabetes be prevented?

Every four minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with diabetes – the chances are you either know someone with the condition, or may even have it yourself. The question that often gets asked is: can diabetes be prevented?

There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2

  • Type 1 diabetes can't be prevented. The body's immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells, and nobody quite understands why.
  • Type 2 diabetes is a little more complex. Whilst carrying extra weight, particularly around the middle (waist) is a significant risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, other factors such as genetics, age and ethnicity also play a big part. This means some people who are carrying extra weight won't develop diabetes, while others who are of a healthy weight, might. It's the combination of our genes and our lifestyle that influences the development of Type 2 diabetes.

If Type 2 diabetes can't be prevented, how can you reduce your risk of getting it?

Firstly you need to know your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. You can find out your risk using our simple, online Diabetes Risk Score Test.

Some risk factors such as age, gender and ethnicity can't be changed – but lifestyle can. We know that up to 80 per cent of cases of Type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented, and risk can be reduced by up to 60 per cent after making some basic lifestyle changes. If you are overweight, every kilogram you lose could reduce your risk by up to 15 per cent.

How do you know if you need to lose weight?

  1. Measure your waist circumference
  2. Calculate your Body Mass index (BMI)
  3. Compare your results to the healthy targets

Calculating your waist size and BMI

Waist size

To measure your waist, find the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips. Measure around your middle at a point midway between these (for many people this will be the tummy button).

Please see our video for tips on how to get an accurate waist measurement.

Body Mass Index

Your BMI is a simple way to check if your weight is healthy for your height. It doesn't tell you the amount of fat in your body, and it isn't always accurate if you are very tall or do a lot of weight training or bodybuilding. You can work out your BMI using the NHS Choices Healthy Weight Calculator.

How to measure your waist


Healthy targets for your weight and BMI


 Waist circumference
Women Less than 80cm
(31.5 inches)
Men Less than 94cm
(37 inches)
South Asian Men Less than 90cm
(35 inches)


 BMISouth Asian adult
Underweight Less than 18.5 Less than 18.5
Healthy weight 18.5–24.9 18.5–22.9
Overweight 25–29.9 23–27.5
Obese 30 or more 27.5 or more

Tips to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes

The following tips can help you to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes – and keep it low:

  1. Eat regular meals to keep your blood glucose levels stable.
  2. Include all the essential food groups every day enjoying at least five portions of colourful fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates (such as grainy bread, wholegrain cereal or oats, pasta, sweet potato or basmati rice), dairy (such as milk, yoghurt, cheese), and a small amount of protein (such as lean meat, chicken, fish, lentils and pulses).
  3. Choose low-GI snacks such as fruit, yoghurt, reduced fat cheese and wholegrain crackers or unsalted nuts.
  4. Limit unhealthy snacks high in salt, sugar or saturated fat – this is easier if you avoid processed foods and stick to fresh produce where you can.
  5. Watch your portions. Eating smaller amounts at main meals and snacks will help with weight loss and improve blood glucose levels.
  6. Stick to your recommended daily alcohol limit: this is 2–3 units for women and 3–4 units for men.
  7. Complement your healthy diet with at least 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week – and try not to reward yourself with food afterwards.
  8. Set yourself goals – mark your milestones and celebrate your successes.
  9. Variety is the spice of life – experiment with different foods and keep your exercise interesting.
  10. Start today.